Week 8 of the Grand European Tour
Week 8 – Day 53 – Monday 20th November 2017
Saint Gaudens – 0 miles
There is not too much to write about today as we are still kicking our heels waiting for a tyre to arrive, hopefully tomorrow afternoon so that we can at last cross the Pyrenees into Andorra and on to Spain. Todays highlight was watching a team of men from the local Municipal come onto the Aire and blow the autumnal fallen leaves in to heaps for a gizmo on the back of a van to suck them all up and when full, drive off.
As Saint Gaudens has a very good, new looking bypass, the one that we were on when misfortune struck on Saturday afternoon with our puncture, you must need a good reason to exit the bypass and visit the town, and, after walking into the town centre this afternoon we are at a loss to know what that reason is. The town has that air of having seen better days, most of the shops were shut, and the buildings look uncared for, although the main church in the centre is undergoing a renovation at a cost of around half a million euros. Suffice to say the GoPro was not pressed into service today.
Back at the van in time for a spectacular sunset over the mountains. By the way, this is the view we had from our pitch at Saint Gaudens – not bad eh?
Week 8 – Day 54 – Tuesday 21st November 2017
Saint Gaudens – 0 miles
The morning was spent on the site still killing time before the hoped for arrival of our new tyre. At least I had more time to edit and upload some more 123 SECONDS IN… videos which you can see at the end of this Blog post. After these 3, situated on the north coast of Brittany, I’ve now posted the first taken on the west coast, Audierne, and I think I have only 14 videos to edit to catch up to our present location!
After lunch we headed off in the direction of the out of town commercial estate but found it difficult to pass a Lidl so that killed half an hour, as did a jet wash for Louis before we arrived about 4ish to get the tyre fitted to be greeted with the news that there had been a ‘misunderstanding’ on Saturday as the guy though we were going to try another tyre place then come back if they did not have the correct tyre. Luckily today there was someone there who spoke a little English and we got the tyre ordered for delivery the next day at 2pm so it was back to the Municipal Aire for another night, and this 4th night means Saint Gaudens is our longest stopover yet on the trip. We were treated to another great sunset over the mountains to compensate.
Week 8 – Day 55 – Wednesday 22nd November 2017
Saint Gaudens to Tamarite de Litera over the Pyrenees – 142 miles
I spent the morning working on the Blog, trying to figure out why the software is not sending everyone an e mail confirming when a new post is uploaded. It seems very random who gets an e mail and it has me stumped at the moment. I did a few tweaks so fingers crossed everyone will get this edition!
At noon we set off across town to the tyre depot once again only to find all the shutters down for their 2 hour lunch break so we had ours in the van and waited. At 2pm we entered the reception not knowing if we would be laughing or crying but the smile on the guys face meant the tyre had arrived and I reversed Louis in for the work to be done. They were very efficient and had the work done in no time.
Yesterday when we were here I had asked the English speaker if our intended route to Foix and over the Pyrenees through Andorra and into Spain was the best option, but he said the nearby route was better and quicker. I had seen Foix on TV back in July as it had been the finish of a section of the Tour de France, and with an impressive castle in the middle of town it should be worth a visit, and Andorra would be another country ticked of the list of European countries visited. Now that we were 4 days behind schedule (not that there really is a schedule), I was keen to get moving after kicking our heels for so long, so we headed for the local route and Foix and Andorra will have to wait for another time.
The mountains we had looked at for 4 days in the distance were suddenly looming closer as we headed along a very straight road past dead flat fields for quite a few miles.
We passed through some ancient looking villages with quite a few hilltop churches, buildings or follies, it was difficult to determine which they were, but impressive none the less.
The road was wider than I expected and had very little traffic and what there was were mostly lorries. I had to pull over a few times when I got behind the lorries as I did not want the scenery being recorded on the dashcam spoilt by looking at the rear end of some big lorry trailer.
The Spanish border arrived quicker than expected after less than 30 miles and there was nothing there, just a blue sign with the EU stars saying Spain, and that was it, no police, border guards, buildings, nothing. I don’t suppose many illegal immigrants will ever read this Blog, but this is the way to get into either France or Spain unhindered or detected!
The only town of any size en route was Vielha, which looked like a sort of Alpine ski resort and it was just after passing through it that the road started to climb quite steeply, but still wide and in good condition.
There is one long tunnel on this route through the Pyrenees, named the Juan Carlos 1 tunnel in honour of former Spanish King, Juan Carlos 1. It is 5,230 metres long, 4,038 feet above sea level and was opened in 2007 with two lanes on the southbound direction and one lane northbound and it was on entering it I managed to pass the slow moving lorry that was spoiling my filming. In perspective it is not nearly as high as some of the passes we drove over 2 years ago in Switzerland, but it is higher than Ben Nevis, our highest mountain in the UK.
Once through the Tunnel there was a long, but not too steep descent that seemed to go on for about an hour or so.
All in all this was a great route to drive in the van, with no steep ascents, descents, hair pin bends or sheer drops to the side and it seemed to be well used by trucks, a sure sign it was not too difficult. Although we crossed the Pyrenees in late November with snow glistening on the mountain peaks, we had clear blue sunny skies and did not get as high as the snow line so we were fortunate.
This journey was unplanned and the sun was now dipping down low creating yet another great sunset but as it was beginning to get dark and nowhere in mind to stop, I pulled onto a lorry park to see where we were and consider our options. By a sheer fluke we were only 8 miles from the little town of Tamarite de Litera where we had stayed 2 years ago on the way from Pamplona to Barcelona so we headed there to the free Aire just as it got dark.
Not our longest drive but certainly the most spectacular by far.
Week 8 – Day 56 – Thursday 23rd November 2017
Tamarite de Litera to Tarragona – 92 miles
By choosing the route we did yesterday there was now the possibility of making up time by cutting off a large chunk of Catalonia including Barcelona. We had visited Barcelona 2 years ago on the 9 week European Tour that was a warm up to this years marathon journey and loved it. Barcelona is a truly great city with everything going for it, from location to climate, food, beaches, tourist attractions like the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia, the Ramblas, Camp Nou, home of Barcelona FC, but there had been a couple of negative events there recently including demonstrations against tourists in general, and of course, just in the last month, the demonstrations both for and against independence for Catalonia.
The route I chose today was to head for the Mediterranean coast at Tarragona, a good drive, mostly on a dual carriageway, and starting off with some cloud cover but mild as well. By the time we arrived there at lunchtime the clouds had vanished so we had blue skies and heat, with the temperature pushing 70 degrees, this on a day that Scotland was experiencing wind, rain and in some areas, snow! First order of the day was to change into shorts and t shirts, with The Navigator casting off 2 layers of clothing at one fell swoop. We were parked in a free spot overlooking the beach and the harbour and after lunch we set off for a walk along the front and into the town centre.
To be honest I knew nothing of Tarragona but it turns out it has a fair number of Roman ruins, one of the biggest shopping areas we had been to so far, a good beach and a harbour with a number of huge super-yachts moored up. On the debit side the railway line separates the town from the beach and is unsightly, there is graffiti on everything that isn’t moving and a slight smell in the air from huge nearby chemical works, docks and an oil refinery, so it was an industrial city and not designed to cater for tourists, especially two Scottish tourists glad to be enjoying the weather in their summer clothes, as opposed to the locals who were dressed for a winters day.
About 5ish we decided to head back to the van for the night and on passing a little bar I noticed an A frame advertising 2 glasses of Cava and 2 Pulgas, a little bread thingy with a few slices of a cured meat filling for $5.50, so as we were on a free parking area for the night, I lashed out and indulged The Navigator.
There were 5 vans parked up for the night but there were also cars coming and going until the wee small hours so it wasn’t the best nights sleep.
Week 8 – Day 57 – Friday 24th November 2017
Tarragona to Cambrils via Salou – 21 miles
We woke to a cloudy overcast sky, but it was mild if not hot so we decided not to linger in Tarragona but head south down the coast with no particular destination in mind, a rare occurrence for me. On our way into Tarragona yesterday we noticed a sizeable Mercardo supermarket so we stopped for a few things and to see how the prices in Spain were compared to France and the UK, and it didn’t take long to see that the prices were considerably cheaper than both our recent destinations. We had parked next to another British motorhome in the car park and got speaking to the young couple and son in the shop and they explained they had been on the road for 7 and a half months with 14 countries their tally so far including Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Italy as far south as Sicily so we felt a bit inadequate with only France and Spain on our list so far!
I set the satnav for Salou to get onto the coast road and after circumnavigating Tarragonas sprawling industrial estates we finally left it with the Port Adventura theme park on the skyline ahead of us. There seemed to be some massive rides for thrill-seekers but it didn’t look appealing, especially to The Navigator who gets giddy just looking at things like that, far less go on them. Salou was quiet, but looked very neat and tidy and not the worst mass market resort I have seen. The next resort was Cambrils, of which we knew not a lot apart from the fact it had a campsite right on the seafront, knowledge imparted to the Navigator before we left by someone of her acquaintance who had been here before. Like Chuck Berry, we had no particular place to go, a 1964 reference that will go over the head of our younger readers, so we decided to give it a try for a few days to get some laundry done, if nothing else.
The site is $17 a night with the ACSI out of season discount card I have, which is the most we have paid since the car park at Mont St Michel, but at least we had all the facilities including direct access to a great beach. Getting onto the pitch was not easy as there were trees everywhere with branches going in every direction, planted no doubt to provide shade when cars, caravans and motorhomes were much smaller, but we made it in safely, a feat not achieved by a new German motorhome which had scraped the side trying to negotiate between the branches. Lunch was taken al fresco outdoors in the heat of early afternoon and it was hot, the hottest day in the last 8 weeks and many more before that, so hot, and you may not believe this – but The Navigator was now down to one layer!
Week 8 – Day 58- Saturday 25th November 2017
Cambrils – 0 miles
Not a lot to report today as we had a lazy morning and after lunch cycled the 20 minutes or so into Cambrils and had a walk about. Salou was a proper Costas resort with loads of big seafront hotels, restaurants etc where Cambrils was more laid back in style and appearance, very neat and tidy. We chained up the bikes and spent a couple of hours walking about the marina and beachfront. One of the noticeable things about the restaurants was that outside there was not just one menu but at least 6 and sometimes 8 menus in assorted languages, a sure sign we were now in mass market tourist area.
Week 8 – Day 59 – Sunday 26th November 2017
Cambrils – 0 miles
We decided to stay another night on this campsite as we were settled and after a breezy night the forecast was fairly good for the day. And so it turned out, although there was a slight breeze, we did manage to sit outside in the afternoon sun sheltered by the van. The site has direct access to a very good clean beach but there was no-one on it, apart from a couple of locals fishing from a little rocky breakwater.
On Friday 2 Spanish couples had arrived in their caravans for the weekend and parked up near us and we were treated to them chattering away non stop all weekend. It wasn’t just a relaxed conversation it was a torrent of words delivered at machine gun speed, from one of the women in particular, slight in stature but big on noise. Next to them were a Dutch couple who we talked to quite a bit and as their Spanish neighbours chatted away, the Dutch woman sat outside all day chain smoking.
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To put this week into context here is a map of our route…
As we visit new towns and villages I am filming a series of short videos entitled “123 SECONDS IN…”, primarily to help us remember where we have been, but also to give viewers a flavour of the places, and hopefully inspire you to travel to them as well.
The videos from previous weeks now reside on this PAGE in the 2017/2018 Tour menu above.
We will dodge down the coast for a week stopping where the fancy takes us, but calling at Peniscola and Valencia along the way before ending up in Benidorm to meet our next door neighbours who will be on holiday there.
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