After 8 months of blogging I finally broke the promise I made in my first post, which was to write at least one post a week. The reason is that I have been in Spain for a week, with no access to the internet. But I have been writing down my holiday experiences to post upon my return.
After an exhausting spring I decided we deserved a break, and rented a house in Darnius, a village in the very north of Catalonia, only 20 km from the French border. The northerly location meant that we could drive there, thus making the trip more dog friendly. Our plan was to leave at lunch time on Friday, and drive to Issoire where we would spend the night, before driving the rest of the way on Saturday. Unfortunately I do not drive and so the entire burden of getting us there lay on the shoulders of my boyfriend.
Google maps said the distance to Issoire was 755km. Leaving at lunch we thought we would make it at the latest by 23h00 counting in several long breaks to exercise the dog. What we had not counted on was the traffic around Paris. We spent 2 hours on the ring, stuck between sloppy graffiti and depressing suburban towers, with the occasional glimpse of a temporary shanty town.
When we finally cleared the traffic jam it was 18h00 and we still had more than half the distance left. My boyfriend kept his foot firmly on the gas pedal and we took only one small break for the rest of the way, even though Loki was getting extremely bored in the back seat. Soon it got dark. Unlike Belgium, France does not light its highways and we found ourselves going 130 km per hour on a dark and increasingly winding highway. I peered out of the window trying to catch a glimpse of light, but the dark surrounded us like a wall. It seemed that France was completely uninhabited. Once in a while our headlights would illuminate signs with tantalizing pictures of castles and once even the information that we were entering a volcanic park. I strained my eyes looking into the night. Was that a castle on a hilltop, silhouetted black against the midnight blue of the night sky? That hill with the flat top, could it be a volcano? But the world was nothing but shadows on shadows; flitting past my window. As we drove on, surrounded by nothingness, the road became more and more perilous, turning left then right, then uphill then down. Suddenly our headlights lit up swirls of white. It took us a moment to realise it was mist and another moment before understanding dawned on us: we were in the mountains.
Meanwhile our GPS was suffering from delusions. She kept informing us that we were in an endless traffic jam. As we watched the occasional pair of red rear-lights in the distance we were unable to concur with her assessment of the situation. Luckily the traffic was not heavier, because the oncoming traffic was giving us trouble. As the road curved, as it did frequently, the headlights of oncoming cars would blind us utterly. Gone was the darkness but so were the white markings on the road and the reflectors that were the only indication of the edge of the road. For a second the world was only white blinding light. I held my breath until the night returned with its comforting markings and reflector dots flitting past in quick succession. After hours of this dark and hair-raising roller-coaster we finally made it to the hotel, where we got into bed as soon as we could. We were woken up at 3 o’clock by Loki, who was not feeling particularly sleepy after a day in the back of the car. My boyfriend took him out to relieve himself, and went back to sleep until 8 o’clock the next morning.
Our second day on the road took us from the chilly early spring of the mountains to the arid warm climate of southern Europe. As the road wound its way down from the mountains, naked branches and the sheer green of spring were replaced by pale dry earth dotted with dark shrubs and gnarled trees. We left the clouds behind us, as they clung to the mountain tops, and descended into the warm Mediterranean sun. But while I was getting excited about the change in the weather my boyfriend was reaching the end of his endurance. He struggled to keep his eyes open while he navigated the traffic, hurrying to make sure we made it in time to pick up the keys to the house. We took a break and he drank an energy drink, but half an hour later he said he needed another break. As we pulled into the car park, he closed his eyes, the relief evident on his face. But we still had 80km to go and could not stay long, so soon he was back behind the wheel, squinting in strained concentration at the road ahead.
When we arrived at the house the initial relief slowly turned into joy. Not only had we made it, but it was just as we had imagined it. The house with its wrought iron gates, the pool, the view over the lake. We barbecued some meat and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains while birdsong filled the air.