Absinthe says NO to Europe

Absinthe says No to Europe

All packed and ready to go…

This year’s holiday trip to Spain and France got off to a bad start, when Absinthe decided she’d have an early Brexit and broke down after 9 miles on the M6. We’d just been saying how well she was running when suddenly there was no power when Alison pressed the accelerator. We limped off the motorway and to a nearby petrol station.

We weren’t due to catch the ferry from Portsmouth until 10.30pm and, fortunately,  we’d set off super early to have a leisurely trip down and a meal when we got there. I rang the RAC and they said they’d have someone with us within an hour.


After about 45 minutes a recovery vehicle arrived but the driver had been told that he was recovering us back home. He didn’t have any tools and couldn’t help with a repair. He agreed to ring another RAC mechanic who’d meet us at home and he was with us within another 40 minutes.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t get us back on the road either, although he was made up when he realised he’d seen Absinthe on COTY – I’d rather he could have just fixed her to be honest.

Our neighbour, Gavin, who was the person most likely to get us moving again, was out for the day, so we had to make a decision. We could lose a few days from the holiday and hope that Absinthe could be repaired qucikly and that we could get on another ferry, or we could just throw everything in the back of the Landrover and set off.

We went for the Landy option and hastily had to unpack the van, grab the Glawning from the garage and pile everything in.  We had no inflatable beds but we knew we’d manage somehow.

All ready to go (part 2)…

The drive down to Portsmouth was the usual rainy one but we arrived in time. I’d rung the Ferry company on the way down and changed our car details so we sailed through the registration area. As always seems to happen these days we got pulled over into the border controls area – maybe I’ve got a shifty face.

The guy had a quick look in the back of the 90 and was fine until Alison told him she was an Arsenal fan – he was a Tottenham supporter so that didn’t go down well. He spotted a pen in the well under the steering wheel and thought it was spliff (whatever one of those looks like!) so we had to get it out to show him it wasn’t – he had a laugh and let us on our way.

We arrived in Bilbao on Tuesday morning for an early start to drive to Carcassonne. After a couple of stops for fuel and food we arrived at Villegly, our first campsite. Le Moulin de Sainte Anne is in a small village about 12km from Carcassonne.  Whilst we’d been on the ferry I contacted them to see if they had a pre-pitched tent we could use and we were glad that I had.

The safari type tent was ideal although a little too close to the noisy bar/restaurant area.

We had three full days at the site and spent the time exploring the area. We went to Carcassonne for the day and also cycled along the Canal du Midi – it’s a lovely part of France and I suspect we’ll be back one day.

Unfortunately, it was while we were staying at this site that we woke to the news that our fellow citizens had voted to leave the EU. We were a bit shell-shocked, as were the other Brits on the site, and I’m still in denial as I write this Blog.

On Saturday we moved south to a site near Collioure. Les Criques de Porteils is a large commercial site on the cliffs above the Western Mediterranean with brillant views out to sea and private rocky coves. Again, I’d been in touch on the journey and switched from a camping pitch for the van to a permanently erected tent and we got one in a prime position overlooking the bay.

Collioure is a truly beautiful town within walking distance of the site. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

There are a number of Les plus beaux villages de France in the area and we took the opportunity to visit some of them. Having the Landrover meant we could more easily get into the Pyrenees, where the scenery is quite spectacular.

We also drove to Villefranche-de-Conflet to get the little yellow train up into the Pyrenees to  Font-Romeu. There’s more information here: http://about-france.com/tourism/yellow-train-pyrenees.htm#route

We managed to get a seat in the open top carriage and the scenery was ok but, if I’m honest, there are only so many trees you can look at before it gets a bit dull!

Our friends, Keith and Julie were arriving at the same site in their lovely van, Morrison. he was the first Kombi we’d seen in France and beautiful he looked too.

We had a BBQ with them one night and then they joined us at ours for a pizza and frites from the nearby bar. It was great to see them and to envy them the rest of their extended trip

During the night we had a bit of a disater, as someone cut their way into our tent and stole Alison’s purse with some cash, her bank cards and driving licence. They left the cameras and car keys, so maybe we distburbed them in our sleep. We reported the theft to the site and they repaired our tent and we also went to the local Gendarmerie but they simply gave us a form to fill in. I was expecting them to scramble Interpol, Maigret and the policeman from ‘Allo, ‘Allo who had been pissing by at the time…

The theft didn’t spoil our trip but it unnerved us both on our final night – the thought that someone had been that close to us with a knife was a bit off-putting. Neither of us slept well ahead of our move to Perpignan.

When we’d booked the trip we thought we’d try and get to a Catalan Dragons Rugby League game. When we checked and found they were playing Wigan Warriors (our team) we were made up. It was a game to celebrate the Dragons 10 years in Superleague so it had even more significance.

It’s only a short drive from the site to Perpignan and we’d booked a hotel with secure parking (thinking we’d have the van). In the event the Defender only just fitted in, but we were pleased that we could park safely.

The hotel was a bit basic and very hot in the rooms with no (working) air conditioning but we survived.

We caught the bus to the stadium with lots of other Wigan fans and had to queue to get in. I was very impressed that they had a seafood stall selling oysters and other shellfish before the game – not your typical Rugby League fare and the Warriors fans didn’t seem to be partaking very much.

The fact that Wigan won was an added bonus and we celebrated with a lovely meal back in Perpignan.

On Sunday, we were up early to drive back to Bilbao where we had a slightly better hotel booked for a couple of nights before getting the ferry back.

Coffee break at the services on the motorway to Bilbao

No room at the inn for a Defender

The Gran Hotel Domine (http://www.hoteldominebilbao.com/) is brilliant, although they had an issue fitting the 90 into their underground car park – in the end we had to park it outside, which made us 50 Euros better off!

I was very impressed with Bilbao – the Guggenheim Museum of Art is the must-see place of course but we also enjoyed the old town – narrow lanes with bars selling pinchos which we visited on both evenings.

The view from our bedroom window

On the roof bar of our hotel

We left on Tuesday morning to drive to the port (in awful rain) and sailed back to Portsmouth.

We had a lovely meal on the boat and settled down for a good night’s sleep before driving back home to Leyland.

All in all, an eventful trip and we’d rather have had Absinthe with us, but one we’d really enjoyed.

There’s a full set of photos here: Flickr

Things we’ve learned:

Holidays in France are great, but holidays in France with Absinthe, are better
You can take a Landrover to places a campervan can’t reach
Sunshine beats rain any day
A locked door will only keep an honest person out
Brazilian owners are great fun and brilliant friends
Not having to take Boris out in the morning is quite good, but doesn’t mean we won’t miss him
No matter what vehicle we drive, we’re always going to get stopped at the ferry port
Having a skilled mechanic as a neighbour is a godsend
I may never get over the Brexit result

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