We awoke to our last shitty day in paradise. The sky was a brilliant blue though not, it has to be said, crystal clear in that there were a few wisps of very thin high altitude cloud adding a bit of variation. We would be heading once again for the Cap Finistère, the Brittany Ferry which had delivered us to Bilbao almost three months ago. There was no rush; today’s sailing was 20:30 so last check-in would be 19:00. A direct run up the autopista would take less than six hours with comfort breaks so we had time to kill. Francine decided we should kill it by investigating a couple of Rioja wine region villages en route, particularly the one containing the Marques de Riscal Hotel designed by Frank Gehry with its external coloured ribbons fashioned in titanium.
I was happy with that plan, being Mr. Cautious when it comes to travel – only 90 minutes from Bilbao, it would get the bulk of our journey over before any dilly-dallying took place. We breakfasted, paid handsomely but contentedly, and set off up the autopista heading for our first landmark, Zaragoza.
My phone binged as I was driving. I’ve just ordered an adapter to use my Canon lenses one my new Olympus camera body. I’d had one text message concerning delivery (Monday back in England) and idly wondered if this was another. We negotiated the roads round Zaragoza without a hitch and pulled in to the next services for a comfort break and coffee. I suddenly remembered my message. It was from Brittany Ferries and my eyes caught the “ … delayed due to bad weather … last check-in now 20:15.” bits. “Humble apologies.” Bad weather? We looked at the continuing beautifully blue skies surrounding us. Something unpleasant in that darned English Channel, perhaps. Please don’t tell us we’re in for another roller-coaster ride up the Bay of Biscay, like last year. We had an additional two hours to kill.
Our first chosen time-waste was a walled village called Laguardia. Diving off the autopista we followed the signs along quiet twisting roads and approached town. A sign pointed to a parking area. We followed. The parking area was full. All the surrounding roads [few] were also full. I spotted a familiar-looking car which was clearly circling, looking optimistically for a parking spot. Clearly the approach roads had been quiet because all the cars were here already. I drove to a different part of town, eventually finding a single space beside the road at the bottom of the lift into town. Yes, in common with Teruel, some of these fortified towns built on high outcrops as a defence now have lifts to save modern Homo sapiens the effort of walking up too many steps.
Given all those cars, the town itself was naturally absolutely heaving with Spanish tourists, most of whom were now looking for a drink or three and lunch. Of course: a sunny Saturday and all the locals are out looking for weekend diversions. Having pulled off the miracle of parking, neither of us particularly wanted to be there now, certainly not for a crushed lunch. We paused for Francine to snag a decent view of mountains with a road snaking towards them, descended the lift and hillside then un-parked our car to find a pleasant tapas lunch at a much quieter table in a nearby non-touristic village of less note. Much better.
The mass of humanity at Laguardia had made us doubtful about visiting Francine’s second time-wasting target, Elciego, in search of the Marques de Riscal Hotel architectural art form. We still needed to kill more time, though, so we went for it. Heck, we had to do something. Elciego was actually rather quiet, perhaps because one cannot get anywhere near the arty-farty hotel past the security guards unless one is booked in. Being an ultra-modern construction more or less dumped on the edge of a more traditionally built village/town, as arty as it might be, to our minds it jars somewhat. Even finding an advantageous observation point proved difficult. With a stroke of luck we did end up on a series of heart-in-mouth farm tracks between some of the surrounding vineyards which did, eventually, breast a hill and afford us something of a view; good enough for a snap, anyway. There’s as good a close up as we could get, too. Pretentious or what?
We’d almost done it – burned up our spare time, that is. We embarked upon the last 90-ish minute stretch to Bilbao taking a few slow roads through another village or two. Finally back on the autopista and with a little time still in hand, we called at the final services for a reviving cup of green tea.
Approaching the ferry port, we began to leave most of Bilbao’s traffic behind. We cruised up to an apparently closed port barrier at about 19:30. Curious. A man appeared and asked if we wanted the ferry tomorrow. “No, today”, we replied. He let us in. Also curious. The place was utterly deserted: no boat, no cars, no people and hardly any light. Deep sinking feelings overcame us. We consulted my message again. My eyes had completely missed the fact that the departure point was, and always had been, Santander. OMG! We were supposed to be going to friggin’ Santander not friggin’ Bilbao. What a complete idiot. I’d booked the sailings about eight months ago and had completely forgotten that I’d picked a different departure point, just because the sailing time suited us. It was the same boat both ways but operating through different ferry ports.
Given our ill-conceived pratting about, by the time we’d realised my embarrassing mistake, exited the wrong port and given Francine time to reprogram the satnav for the correct ferry port of Santander, it was 19:45. It’s a good 45-minute drive to Santander from Bilbao even on a good day; we’d be 15 minutes late for last check-in. Mr. Cautious normally arrives an hour before it’s necessary. Why had I deviated from my norm this time? Where were all those precious minutes that we had casually and intentionally frittered away now that we needed them? Time thieves.
It felt like Mission Impossible but we had to give it a go. The alternative would probably mean driving up through France to get a cross Channel ferry. Francine tried phoning Brittany Ferries, explaining that we’d had a problem [lack of brain] and they said the best they could do would be to add a note on our booking saying we were in transit but late. Francine told them we should be there at 20:30, 15-minutes after the gates closed. It was, of course, now pitch black. I drove as if I was doing Meat Loaf impressions; normally 10-clicks below the limit I was now 5-clicks over – well, all speedos over read to some extent, anyway. I followed locals who seemed to find this speed normal. I didn’t. We shaved a good three minutes off our estimated arrival time. Big deal – that shows you how much good speeding is, doesn’t it?
With one mile to go to the correct port of Santander, the traffic totally seized up; three lanes of solid traffic jam moving only sporadically. ¿Que? It’s 20:30, mas o menos, and Santander is now heaving. Saturday evening frivolities, we presumed. Eventually we edged forward enough and could see the ferry approach road ahead but were still powerless to get to it any faster than the crawling traffic conditions would allow. Eventually, after a bit more crawling, I managed to squeeze through a gap between the kerb and the car in front and shot down the approach road. The port entrance barrier was down but a nice man appeared and let us through saying, “Cap Finistère? Go left”. We went left and found the check-in gates also with “closed” barriers across them. In one booth, though, there were some lights still on and a warm body. A second helpful man opened one barrier for us. I thanked him profusely. Shortly an angelic apparition bent down to my driver’s window, smiled and took our documentation as we again poured out profuse apologies for being late. She disappeared for what seemed like five minutes. Eventually Ms. Delicious returned with our boarding card and cabin keys.
I asked her to marry me.
Well, OK, I didn’t really. I did tell her she was a life-saver, though. We breathed collected sighs of relief, began hallucinating about the vodka I’d bought in Teruel yesterday [must’ve been a premonition], then joined the boarding queues which, of course, were still there and didn’t make any progress for many more minutes. Finally we felt relaxed enough to joke about being 15 minutes late for Brexit.
What an absolute plonker; the dangers of booking asymmetric travel plans then leaving your brain out of gear and not reading everything properly. My mind had not even considered a different departure port, despite having intentionally booked it.
When we finally boarded, I fully expected an announcement saying “welcome aboard this sailing to Plymouth”.