Sunday, 27 March 2016

A Bit Spain and a Bit of France

A Bit of Spain and A Bit of France

Tuesday 22nd March 2016

Happy Birthday Pete xx

Yesterday morning we left our campsite at Ribadesella and initially used the mountain roads to get to an Aire at Cabarceno near Santander, and on the way we had the pleasure of having our coffee break on the edge of a precipitous gorge. Then our forward journey required us to make a quick trip into Lidl to replenish stocks before we arrived at our destination.  

The Aire is another ‘orange banner’ one, and it attracted us because the blurb in the Aires book  informed us that it is in quite close proximity to an open air elephant enclosure where elephants can be viewed roaming freely during the day.

The animals belong to Parque de la Naturaleza Cabarceno - a drive through ‘zoo’ that is highly rated on Trip Adviser, and  Wikipedia informed us that it has 12 miles of drive around tracks from which you can visit the animals.   So last night, between the ongoing rain showers, we nipped out to check if it would be feasible for us to cycle round.  The lady in the hut said ‘yes’ we could either cycle or go in the T4rdis because there are numerous parking areas where we could leave it and then walk to the animal pens to view. The only draw back was the entrance fee was expensive at 25 euros each - a price hype for the Easter hols.  

Although zoos don’t usually float our boat we decided that we would visit this one because it seemed different to most!  But because the weather was still dank, cloudy and cold, rather than use our bikes, we went in the T4rdis so that at least we could nip in for a warm and a cuppa  when we wanted.  

Now mostly the place was a delight - it's sighted in an old quarry with huge stone pinnacles and numerous rock formations all around.  

Also, for the most part, the animals are housed in huge grassy enclosures where they have the freedom to roam and mix with other spices - and even to come and say hello to the ‘animals’ on the other side of the fence.

One of the highlights of the day was the Bird’s of Prey flying display - initially they flew falcons, vultures and kestrels around a tiered seating area, and encouraged the birds to swoop and fly in very close proximity to the audience. 

 And then later larger birds, that included more falcons and eagles, were released from high on a hill, possibly about 1km away. They made a magnificent spectacle as they swooped in, and then swerved and changed their flight direction as they tried to grab the food  their handlers were enticing them with.

After that there were lots more animals to see, but the other highlight for me was the bear enclosure.  This was a massive pen with at least 20 bears roaming, dozing  or taking a bath!

The forefront of the pen was a huge grassy area, and the backdrop was a craggy cliff area where we spotted several animals taking a nap or roaming high up on the boundary.  Obviously, they weren't free, but to us it seemed the next best thing.  

Sadly, there were also some animals who’s homes didn't seem quite so picturesque, and our only other moan would be that none of the information was available in any other language than Spanish.

At the end of the day we both agreed it was a very good job we hadn't gone on our bikes - I think we would've froze!

Wednesday 23rd March 2016

This morning we set our sights on an Aire at Lekeitio where we'd arranged to meet up with John’s sister Val and her Husband - another John!  It really was lovely to see some of our close family members and have time to spend nattering and catching up on recent family happenings. 

We also went for a couple of walks through the quaint and historical narrow streets of the town which led us past the Gothic Basilica of Santa Maria, and then further on, down to the sea front with it’s harbour where we saw the fishing boats unloading huge quantities of what we thought were mackerel.

Then it was back to the vans for supper and more nattering, of course accompanied by liberal quantities of ‘pop’.  Most of our conversation centred around where we were heading next, but even after a couple of hours I don’t think any of us were any the wiser as to what the other couple were going to do, and then in the morning we all changed our minds anyway!

Thursday 24th March 2016

This morning it was farewell to Val and John, and even though we were heading in roughly the same direction we both ended up in different places, them on a campsite in Zarautz, and us on an Aire in San Sebastian.  Now to say the T4rdis was tucked in snug would be an understatement - I think we had about 2 feet on one side and maybe 4 on the other, and by 5pm every pitch was taken.  We did debate weather to stop, but as we'd already paid the parking fee (about £2.50) John felt we should, so when I'd finished sulking (I don’t like playing sardines), we decided we should go out and explore the university coastal town that is just over the border from France.  

Now, we were well aware that Easter was nearly upon us and that tomorrow would be a bank holiday, but it seemed that today was as well.  All the shops were shut and there were loads of people about, strolling along the lovely promenade that fronts the coastal aspect of the city - so we joined them and spent a pleasant couple of hours meandering.    

The architecture along the way was a very mixed bag of new and old but our attention was mostly concentrated on the Bay of Biscay’s incoming tide as it crashed up and quickly flooded the beach, and also on a chap who was using his paddle board like a surf board and was riding the incoming waves as they roared up the shore.  

We'd originally planned to stay in San Sebastian for a couple of days but because the Aire was so busy we'd more or less decided that we'd move on again in the morning, but even if we hadn't  I think what happened through the night and into the morning would have changed our minds! Our neighbours were 4 young Spanish men, and I think we knew there may be problems when they went out at about 10.30pm.  One or two of them came back around 2.45 and probably disturbed most of the site, however this was nothing compared with the noise that occurred between 7 and 7.45am  when the rest of them returned.  They hammered and banged on the door of their van almost constantly for the next 45 minuets - only 4 feet from my ear - in an attempt to wake their mates to let them in out of the teaming rain, and when that didn’t work they shouted and banged some more - it even woke John!  By 8.15 all was quiet again - I think they’d probably all passed out.

Friday 25th March 2016

Well, after our early start we decided to cross back over into France, so we aimed the T4rdis at a small Aire in the hills on the Col d’Ibardin - we felt sure we would find peace and quiet here - and we did - but the town is quite unusual!  

John tried very hard to go in but I kept his leash nice and tight
The T4rdis was  parked on the French side of the boarder, but as we walked up into the town we actually crossed the border line again and went back into Spain on foot.  Now, today was Good Friday, but that didn’t seem to make a difference here - all the shops were open and the main item that seemed to be available was alcohol - loads of it, and it was very cheap - apparently because it’s Spanish!  Maybe that would explain why the Aire was full of French vans and why people kept returning to them with shopping trolleys piled high with goodies!  

Anyway, we hadn’t come for that - we'd come for the walking!  We strolled through the town and did a bit of window shopping, but this also gave us the opportunity to admire the spectacular view of the Pyrenees on the left and the magnificent distant view of the sea and Biarritz  on our right.  Then we debated weather to go further up the hill, or to descend to the lake.  

The later won, but we were still rewarded with more stunning views of mountains and sea, and as we went along our chosen track we also had the pleasure of admiring lots of wild flowers that were just coming into bloom.

Maybe the shops will tempt us back in the morning!

Saturday 26th March 2016

Well they didn't - tempt us back that is! This morning we left our lofty perch on the Col d'Ibardin and headed down the steep and narrow twisty road towards the little town of Sare, and although the drive was uneventful it was at times stressful due to the amount of traffic and cyclists. However, we were soon settled in our chosen Aire on the outskirts of the village, and before lunch we nipped out to explore the cute but thronged little streets that were lined with artisan shops and busy cafes.  

On our journey this morning we had noticed a little rack and pinion train that John had read about and that would take us up to the peak of La Rhune from where we would have 360 degree panoramic views over the mountains and coast, but when we saw the queue we almost dismissed being able to go up.  

But then again maybe not, because there was a walking track that we could use, so after lunch, and a bit of debate we set off! We'd decided to set our sights on the summit but as it was 900 metres up and already past 2pm we agreed we might not make it all the way! (it was nothing to do with me being unfit!)

Immediately the path was very steep and the sun was very hot, and the further we went the more rugged the track became, so after we'd been walking for about 2hrs and realised we'd only gained just over half the altitude, we decided to change our goal. Instead we headed for Les 3 Fontaines, and then the edge of the ridge that had distant views of The Bay of Biscay, and the many towns including Biarritz, and possibly as far as the massive Dune de Pilat.

Following our break at this fantastic vantage point we set of on our return journey, and you would think that because it was all downhill it would have easier and quicker. WRONG - the gradient, the loose shale and the rocks that needed to be negotiated, along with the breathtaking views all slowed our decent. And additionally, I think we noticed more of the ancient woodland on the lower slopes as we passed old gnarled ivy covered oak trees amidst which wild horses grazed.

By the time we got back to the T4rdis we were very hot and the temperature gauge inside registered 32 degrees - needless to say doors and windows were flung open and our cooling off was assisted by a nice cold glass of cider.

Sunday 27th March 2016

What a night! The wind had started to rev up about 8pm, then the van began to rock, and then the rain started - and it continued with noisy ferocity all night long. But the morning dawned (an hour early) with bright sunshine which was promised to last all day. Therefore, our debate re if we should we go to the sea side or should we go to Dax for the cycling tracks was really a no brainier! The sea side it was, and we were soon on our way to a commercial Aire at Capbreton where the wild Atlantic was just over a large sand dune.  

Once the T4rdis was settled we pottered along the beach to the town, but as it was Easter Sunday, it was heaving - so really not very much to our liking.  

Therefore, we soon about turned and wandered back along the beach past several old concrete bunkers that had been dumped in the sea following a huge amount of erosion that had taken place over the years. Then it was back to our dune top location where we spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the lovely sunshine and watching the waves pound up the beach. And for our entertainment, the incoming tide caught quite a few people out and soaked them up to their knees as they sauntered along.

Later it was back to the T4rdis for a steak dinner, and more entertainment was provided by 2 French couples who had their vans parked just in front of ours. They'd parked one forwards and one backwards so that their habitation doors were facing, and this also provided a gap between their vans where they set up their barbecue and table and chairs. Then they proceeded to cook, but what amused me the most was the fact that one of the couples brought out a parrot in a cage to join them, and as he squawked loudly, he seemed to be leading the conversation!

From the Left - Thomas, Evelyn, Rosie and Jack x

The other bonus for this Aire is  ....  We've got internet - and it's free - the WiFi that is not the Aire!  Anyway, it will be off to Dax tomorrow, and the next instalment may take a while, so bye again for now, but just before I go I'd just like to share this lovely photo of John's Mum with 3 of her Great Grandchildren.   Love to you all xxxx

Click here to see our Spanish and French Camping spots