After yesterday’s excitement of leaving Portsmouth harbour at 8:30 AM, the remainder of the day had been a mixture of either staring at the horizon slowly bobbing up and down and/or feeling queazy, in Francine’s case. Fortunately, the night had settled Francine’s stomach; she awoke with renewed vigour actively seeking breakfast. We arose in leisurely fashion, had tea, of sorts – better sorts than at the Travelodge – in our cabin and sauntered down for breakfast before the hoards descended. Francine stuck with scrambled eggs on toast – classic sick puppy food – whilst I went for the full English at a very reasonable £4.95.
After breakfast and 25 hours at sea, we soon had just another two hours to run until our arrival in Bilbao harbour – a doddle, really, just a little more than the 90 minutes of our usual Dover-Calais run. We spent yet more time watching the horizon bob gently up and down. There are a couple of popular forms of holiday that neither Francine nor I can understand the attraction of and one of them, the main one, is cruising. I completely understand why cruise passengers might step off their luxury cruise liner 2 stones/28 lbs heavier than they were when they embarked because other than eating and drinking whilst watching the horizon bob up and down, there’s really bugger all else to do.
“Only two hours until lunch, dear”.
“Oh, alright, there’s time for another pre-prandial or two, then.”
“The horizon’s still there.” [Sip]
“That’s a relief.” [Glug]
How on earth do people put up with this for a week or two? I was stir-crazy after a single day.
We avoided any further ingestion of food or drink by thrumming our fingers and twiddling our thumbs for a couple of hours and eventually our ferry drifted serenely past Bilbao’s outer harbour wall, though it was still 30 minutes until we were docked and told to return to our vehicles.
Flashback: Whilst boarding at Portsmouth, vehicle drivers had been urged to “turn off your vehicle alarms during the crossing”. Not knowing how to do so, I returned to our car to consult the manual, only to discover that there really was no way to lock the car without the alarm being enabled, except, it seemed, by leaving a door less than firmly shut or, more appealingly, leaving the back hatch slightly ajar. I had chosen the latter and returned to begin our voyage. [Aside: Now look, Honda, why on earth is there no way of disabling the alarm? Wake up!] Now here we were, returning to our car 27 hours later when Francine announced that the boot light was on and clearly had been so for the duration, 27 hours. Oh Bother, or words to that effect! The car still seemed to have power; the damned boot light still glowed, after all, and the windows still lowered. We sat in the car, desperately attempting not to use any further battery power and waited 15 or 20 minutes for heaven knows what until we were finally told to start our engines ready for disembarkation. What on earth takes so long at Bilbao? By now, if we’d arrived at Calais, we’d have been on the autoroute and heading for Normandy.
Heart in mouth and praying to all the gods I don’t believe in, I turned the ignition key. Utter relief, it worked, our beautiful car started. Well, it did have a brand new 75 amp/hour battery and we’d been shining a singe low power light for just 27 hours. Nonetheless, it had been a nervous end to our boring sea voyage, thinking that we might be responsible for holding up an already tediously slow disembarkation.
Once off the ferry, we sat in a tediously slow queue for another 15 minutes waiting on the pleasure of Spanish immigration, who had clearly been surprised by our scheduled arrival, one of only two a week. Finally, at about 1:00 PM local time, we were out of the harbour complex and dicing with the tangled web of roads before heading towards Zaragoza on an almost empty autopista.
Once on the open road for this first stage of our road journey, it was a case of setting the cruise control to a few KPH below the 120 national limit, just to be safe, and steering the car. There was blissfully little to impede progress. It’s 306 kilometres/190 miles from Bilbao to Zaragoza and I swear to Darwin that we see more traffic covering the 2 miles between our house and the centre of our home town than we did on this road. This was driving heaven, though we did pay a toll of 32.50€ for the privilege. We never see this little traffic on the M1 in the UK, even at 2:00 AM.
We had missed the almond blossom season in Jalón, normally early February, because for some reason the blossom was late appearing this year and we returned from our previous trip before it had burst forth. Once it did burst forth, it didn’t last very long. However, our journey through the Rioja and Navarra wine regions now made up for it as we past stretches of quiet road lined with the various subtle pink shades of blossom-covered almond trees. Quite delightful!
After Zaragoza we headed for Teruel on a now free autopista [much better]. The traffic wasn’t any heavier, though, until we left Teruel behind and reached Valencia in fading light on the eastern coast. As darkness fell, we were now on more familiar territory, having ferried friends back and forth to Valencia airport on a few previous visits. After another hour and a quarter or so, we approached Casa Libélule, parked and began unloading the car at about 9:00 PM. We seem to be the only residents in the dozen or so currently sold properties of the development. This solitude, of course, could spoil us.
Our friends in Jalón had been up to turn on our fridge and leave us fresh milk, bread, charcuterie and cheese for a late evening feast. A beer or two slaked our thirsts first and a bottle of wine washed down the picnic on our balcony as we watched the lights in the valley below and the stars in the cloudless sky above. Contentment!
At last, we collapsed into our guest room’s bed, currently the only piece of furniture that Casa Libelule possesses, to spend our first night in our mostly empty new home.