Monday, 5 January 2009

Moving to Madrid

It was still dark and had that pre-dawn bitter chill in the air that keeps most people in the warmth of their beds (apart from breakfast news-readers, as I know only too well) but Theo´s Dad was outside to see us off. Plus parting gifts of a tupperware pot of fresh pineapple (with tooth-picks thoughtfully provided) and a handful of post holiday Euros Theo´s Mum had failed to spend while visiting us in Barcelona. She was waving from the window as we pulled away from the driveway of Berry Mansion in Cirencester. No Just Traveling this time - we were moving to Spain for real.

Our hideously early start was rewarded with a pastel watercolour sky making even the M4 look romantic as we followed the almost empty motorways down to Newhaven, where we were catching the ferry. We had been so careful not to be late that we arrived at the dock more than an hour early, meaning we could have got up at 0630 instead of 0530. But that´s the beauty of having a campervan as your main transport - we took the lost hour of kip in the back while parked outside the ferry terminal building. We can only apologise to Theo´s parents.

The crossing was about as close to millpond smooth as it´s possible to get in the English Channel - even Theo didn´t feel queasy as we made our way to Dieppe. It was around five thirty pm local time when we got there, although not yet dark, thanks to the hour´s time difference. That meant we were treated with another gentle rainbow glow in the sky as the winter sun disappeared while we headed south.

Theo had hoped to reach Bordeaux before stopping for the night, but fatigue forced him to quit a little before Poitiers. In minus temperatures, we parked outside a motorway service station, did our teeth in the loos and snuggled under the duvet, relying on bodyheat to keep out the cold.

It worked because when we awoke, we both felt pretty warm, but there was ice on the inside of the windows. Getting up wasn´t much fun - Theo´s teeth were actually chattering. But parking outside a motorway services means you can get a thawing cuppa even at six a.m. Just as well.

We hit the road and by dawn, we were passing Bordeaux and making good for the Spanish border. We crossed shortly after midday, put on one of our Learn Spanish CDs (all about booking a room in a hotel - we would put it into practice in a matter of hours) and ate home-made bocadillos for lunch.

Our route accidentally took us past Bilbao, whose suburbs looked as ugly as we remembered them from our visit last year. And we missed our turn again, just like last time. And Theo got cross again.

After that, it all went smoothly. As we neared Madrid, the Sierra Guadalarra reared its snow-encrusted ridge above the clouds and into another beautiful colourwash sky. What a welcome! We texted a warning of our arival to various friends in Madrid and looked for a hotel.

As a location for a romantic dinner a deux, the underground carpark of the Ibis in Alcobendas takes some beating, but the veggie chili had to be cooked somewhere and Spanish hotel bedrooms don´t even have tea-making facilities (as Theo´s mum pointed out to us in shocked tones when she was staying in Barcelona). The warm shower was welcome and the wifi connection expensive (but necessary) as we embarked on The Great Flat Hunt. It made us both feel stroppy and dispirited (not difficult, given the exhaustion of two long days on the road) - we gave up and collapsed into bed by half ten.

Blearily, I woke up in the pitch darkness to the sound of my mobile phone trilling somewhere in the room. I answered it to a firm telling off from Cesar, one of our Spanish friends who had just found my text proclaiming our arrival.
"Where are you?" He demanded
"That´s ridiculous! We are just around the corner!"
In fairness, we hadn´t known if Cesar and Belen were in Madrid at all and not in, say, South Africa spending the holiday with his family there. But it was lovely to feel cared for. Cesar ended the phone-call with an order for us to report to his and Belen´s home the following morning. We had definitely arrived in Madrid.

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