In our modern world one can clamber onto a crammed cigar-tube of a jet aircraft and swap the cool winter clouds of the UK for the relatively warm sunny Mediterranean skies of the Costa Brava in a little over two hours. The process is so quick, even allowing for the now slow immigration process thanks to the invention of infernally inefficient automated passport reading machines, that one would hardly know one had changed countries.
Travelling in a slow and leisurely fashion makes for an entirely different psychological experience. In the days of Jules Verne and Around the World in 80 Days, travel required effort and took so long on slower forms of transport that one knew one was in a very different country. Our journey to Spain this time, running away from what would hopefully be the worst of the British winter, provided us with a flavour of that older world.
We’ve travelled on the ferry from Portsmouth to northern Spain before, always to Bilbao. This time our booking had us entering Spain through Santander instead. The timings of our sea crossing made us do things a little differently.
Our ferry departed Portsmouth at 08:45 on Tuesday 19th December. Checking in at 07:00, we could, technically, have awoken early on Tuesday, left home at about 04:30 and been fine. However, relying on British December weather not to intervene and make us miss that ferry was a little too risky so we chose to travel down to Portsmouth on the afternoon of Monday 18th, staying in a handy-dandy Travelodge just two miles from the port. Heck, I even treated Francine to a meal in the adjacent Toby Carvery on Monday evening. Do I know how to spoil a woman or what?
Other than scraping the frost off the car’s windows, Tuesday morning’s departure was a relaxing, unhurried affair. We checked in, moved from one queue [line, for the benefit of Amerispeakers] to another and eventually boarded Brittany Ferries Baie de Seine. The Baie de Seine is not a fast ferry, taking 28½ hours to reach Santander. [More modern bateaux do it in 24 hours.] One can do an awful lot of Sudoku puzzles on such a journey. Such a journey may be verging on the tedious but it is relaxing, especially being able to retreat from Joe Public to the privacy of ones cabin. We docked in Santander at 14:15 on Wednesday 20th December.
The boats on this route are not modern RORO [roll-on-roll-off] ferries. Unloading them takes a while. from docking to exiting the port, one needs to allow an hour. We were almost the last vehicle out. We hit the road at 15:00 on Wednesday 20th.
In the past, arriving at Bilbao at a similar time, we’ve driven straight through to Jalón, a journey of about eight hours. Santander, however, is an hour further west so we’d have been getting to Jalón at midnight had we done it in one hit, mostly in the dark. Instead we chose to drive for about three hours and overnight in a very nice Parador hotel at Calahorra in the Rioja wine region. We arrived at 18:00 just as the sun was dipping beneath the horizon – perfect timing.
Parador hotels are great and Calahorra proved an interesting town to wander around before dining in the hotel. We found a delightfully bustling bar (what am I saying?) that sold us glasses of perfectly drinkable red wine for 90¢ each, and that included a tapa of bread and Manchego cheese. Barking!
We left Calahorra on Thursday 21st and drove the remaining five hours to Jalon, crossing the 1000m plateau before descending to sea level just above Valencia on the Mediterranean coast, then the final hour down south to Jalón. We’d done the whole day’s drive under crystal clear blue skies, unsullied by a single cloud, until 50kms from our final destination when the grey stuff reared its ugly head. We couldn’t believe it. Bugger! No matter, as it turned out the skies did largely clear again as we finally headed up towards Casa Libelule in Jalón. We were here by 14:30 on Thursday in time to do some shopping for the evening meal, after leaving our UK home on Monday afternoon.
Essentially we’d taken four days to get here. This was more like travel of old. It felt good, relaxing and entertaining. Well, maybe not the 28½ hours on the ferry. Thank Darwin for Sudoku. 😀