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Hello; welcome to my road trip. 
Tue. 15th Apr.

First week;


The drive down through England was uneventful if not tiring, as is to be expected. But, there's always 'The London' to throw a spanner in the works. Here's some cheap advice (I knew about this advice before not heeding it myself): if you plan to drive the M25 road that goes around London then allow for an extra 3 days of travel. Yes, I'm exaggerating, but you get the gist of my point. Because of that road I missed a ferry I planned on sailing on. The ferry wasn't booked and I hadn't paid any booking fees, nor was it imperative that I was on that ferry, nonetheless, I wanted to be on that boat and I missed it due to a horrendous traffic jam on the M25. End of cheap advice.
I did get to have a look round Portsmouth as a result of the M25. Portsmouth; BIG naval history with stuff to look at. Good gear. There was loads of pictures to be taken, which I took, but here's just a couple to offer a flavour.
Admiral Lord Nelson's 'Victory'
Admiral Lord Nelson's 'Victory'
Gigging in the Rigging?
Gigging in the Rigging...

FRANCE

The ferry crossing and Ouistreham, Normandy

The ferry I did manage to take, the 'Mont St Michel', was very modern and had loads of stuff to keep the weans and the adults happy for the 6 hour crossing. Truth be told, it went quicker than I had been dreading. The crossing itself was remarkably calm, the English channel as 'flat' as I think it could possibly be. I dozed once, sitting by a window, my back to a wall and the sun streaming through the large glass pane. 
I thought for a moment that my laptop charger was goosed when it refused to fire-up, but after trying a last-gasp third and final ship mains socket – European type – it burst-forth with power. That gladdened me, for it meant I could take advantage of the free wi-fi - available to passengers who can use the 'secret access code' to be found on the boarding ticket... I mean, why have the secret access code' in the first place? Lemme see – oh, yes, somebody might free-load Brittany Ferries' free wi-fi without paying for the crossing. Hmmm? Right – and they damn-well might do it mid-crossing. Aye. Like, from another boat that's sailing alongside the Mont St Michel.. I mean, McDonald's offer free wi-fi (buy a cup of tea) but you don't need to punch in any code to access the wi-fi once you buy your tea, it's just available, for all. Sensible.

When the Mont St Michel arrived in Ouistreham, Normandy, it was sunny and warm. The Normandy beaches stretch out for miles and, regarding them from the top deck of the ferry, I could see that they were littered with French folk, as far as the eye could see, doing the 'day at the beach' thing. I thought to myself; 'Okay – I can do this weather'.. But the weather gods were just yanking my chain and they probably do this for every ferry that carries peely-wally Scots from the cold northern hemispheres. It got cold after that first glorious arrival.

So what about Ouistreham? Oh, it's a nice place, that's about it, kind of... More? Okay. Well, it's a town that belches-forth visitors and ferry passengers from the UK, sending them to other parts of mainland France and Europe. It processes these passengers for the rest of France and for the UK, so that they can enjoy whatever it is they came to do, and vice versa for French going to Portsmouth....

Ouistreham is actually very pretty with clean streets and cracking properties in beautiful estates. Some of the properties along the beach are quite stunning. The beach has fine, golden sands and there's enough room on them for a standard Glesga Fair crowd - what lucky people. However, I have to be honest and say that the impression I have of the locals is that they tolerate the invader through gritted teeth and parped car horn. I was parped on three occasions, twice in the van and the other on the bike. The first time it happened, in the van, I amusedly chuckled and made a silent apology to the French driver for I knew my driving was ungainly and unsure as I left the ferry port. The second time I was less forgiving. I was on my bike and was parped by a young lassie as I negotiated a roundabout, just as I was heading for the supermarket. I parped her back and shouted an expletive as I glared at her through my helmet visor. She saw me and I saw her as I glared, I wondered if she felt suddenly 'bad' about her wee in-car rant. On the third occasion I didn't really expect it; I had slowed-down on a country road, unsure of my Sat Nav instructions, and decided the mannerly thing to do would be to pull over and let the two cars behind me pass. I indicated and pulled into the grass verge, giving the trailing cars plenty of notice of my intentions. As the second car passed me, the dastardly coward parped me – his horn hadn't finished its rude noise when I blasted-off a louder and a much more muscled parp as he drove-by – I reckon that French guy must've shit himself when I did that, the fucker. It must be the GB plates. It can only be that. They can't always see that I'm in a right-hand drive vehicle with the steering wheel on the right – they see the GB plates and just behave like wankers. As if the parpers weren't enough, I had an experience with a very rude French guy in the supermarket car park. This dude, in a car with another dude and a lassie, thought he'd make his little protest by thumping my door with his when he got out of the passenger side.. Hmmm? Then, once he'd shuffled his large frame from the car, he decided the next assault would be to back into my wing mirror, whereby pushing it to an angle that made it impossible to see into... All this without as much as a 'Pardon, monseuir'. Had I been quicker I would've challenged him for his cheek. When I looked at the driver of the car, still in his seat, he half-smiled and shrugged as if to say; 'I'm zorry, English – we do not want you here'..  I found myself thinking; 'Aye, you don't want us here, but it wisnae that when we had to fight and die on yer Normandy beaches to free you, bloody surrender monkeys'... 

They're not all like that, it must be said, and I've become less judgmental of them as I grow ever more confident behind my right-hand drive vehicle. I also took the added precaution of sticking a Saltire, with the word 'Scotland' above it, to the side of my van – a sort of, magic shield with great powers. I'm thinking the French will not only have more respect for me, but will also be fearful of pissing me off. Bloody surrender monkeys...

Ouistreham beach; what do you call this sport? 
Pedal-Sailing, Wind-Guidey, 3-wheeled-Kamikaze - they fair fly up and down the beach.

This one's a bit more sedate




D-Day Beaches
A big part of my trip was to come to Normandy to have a look round the D-Day landing beaches. I've always been fascinated by wars and the history behind them. I suppose it could be something to do with seeing all those war movies and television series that were around when we were kids - 'The Battle of the Bulge', 'Combat', 'Garrison's Guerrillas', 'The Longest Day', 'The Dirty Dozen', 'The Magnificent Seven'... Ooops, that last one's a Western, doesn't matter, I like Western's...
Anyway, let's face it, the Germans were always the baddies and we wanted them plain dead, and they usually ended-up that way. I have to tell you that I left behind any confused animosity for the Germans when I read all those Sven Hassel books (German soldier's perspective). You know, being born in 1956 means that WWII had only been over for 11 years when I was born and it's no wonder we had all that war movie material, comics, television etc as we were growing-up. Stereotyping was rife back then; take typical 1960s boy's comics like 'Hurricane' or 'Valiant' and you'll find plenty of healthy jingoistic stereotyping within the pages. Nasty German soldiers were all called 'Hans' or 'Fritz' and they referred to us as 'Schweinhund' (pig dog), and we referred to them as 'Krauts' or 'Squareheads' and the Japs as 'piano-teethed' so-and-sos. Ha - I loved all that. 

It's interesting that the first thing I did when I got to within the vicinity of Omaha Beach (Saving Private Ryan) was to visit the German cemetery. This was an interesting experience in that I found myself looking at the details of the individual German grave markers and feeling a genuine emotion for the men who lay there, and why not? these guys were just following orders like our guys were. The cemetery, holding around 20,000 graves, was very low-key but dignified and immaculate. I could and should devote a whole separate page to the events and aftermath of D-Day Beaches, but in the meantime, here's a couple of pics:

Cimetiere Militaire Allemend de la Cambe (German Military Cemetery)

Zwei Deutsche Soldaten - Two German Soldiers

American cemetery

As far as the eye can see




After the many sights of Normandy's D-Day beaches it was time to move on. The intention is to head south-south-south - follow the sun and the warmth.


2nd. Week. 
Tue 22nd Apr.

I passed this field on the way south; a sea of yellow and a dark structure, blending into the countryside.
German 'Casemate' gun structure in the Rapeseed field


Tue, 22nd. South west to Cherbourg. I'm not expecting to find wondrous things in every place I visit, it's just a chance to put a 'view' to the names I see whenever I scour a map, an opportunity to see for myself the little ports and villages and sandy beaches that I find myself thinking about during the scouring. So, Cherbourg; although it's right on the coast, it's not exactly quaint with sandy beaches but that's fine. I drove around for a spell then found an excellent 'Piscine Municipal' - Public Swimming Pool. In the absence of a proper shower, something we very much take for granted in our everyday domestic lives, I must find a way of keeping fresh. I therefore seek out a swimming pool in order to have a proper wash, every 10 days or so - whether I need a shower or not... I've grown accustomed to swimming again. I used to do this stuff when I was a youngster, Whitevale Swimming Baths at the Gallowgate. I have absolutely no intention of going to 'the swimming' when I'm back home, but needs must as I explained, and I'm having fun getting wet. There is an added bonus - I feel good after the ten or so lengths. If I continue to keep myself clean in this way I reckon I'll be able to swim the channel and right up the Clyde and come out at Inchinnan and find myself ready for a game of fitba'.

Okay, cheerio, Cherbourg - I'm headed south again.


Wed 23rd Apr.
Mont St Michel and Brittany:

I think it was around 30 years ago, while I was in Jersey, Chanel Islands, that I first heard of or saw pictures of Mont St Michel. It would've been nice to visit it back then, particularly as I was just 'across the water' from it. Well, it never happened back then and that was that, but it would crop-up every now and then in TV images, publicity posters or whatever and I always felt it would be good to get another chance at a wee look at it.
If you see an image of Mont St Michel it will always be against a clear blue sky and perfect conditions; it's always like this... right? Well, no. On the day I came all the way from Scotland to see it, the weather gods were having a laugh again. It was Glasgow-grey and pishing-like-Paisley when I arrived there and it never really let-up. But you know what? So-what? I got there and I saw and it was a cool experience, well-worth the 30 year wait.
Here's some pics - I will photoshop them with full blue-sky backgrounds when I get back to sunny Scotland.

These folk must be from Glasgow.


Here's me in my best smart Sunday suit with shining shoes and sharp tie. Like the stylish Fedora?

Inside the walls of Mont St Michel; typical medieval scene


Thu 24th.Apr  Perros, Pleumeur, Pointe de Bihite, Lannion, Brest, Dournenez.

Avranches and Mont St Michel are in Brittany. Leaving the Mont behined, I drove south and towards the coast. I did have a sort-of itinerary but it doesn't always go to plan and I ad-lib a lot of the time. And so the case was today. I found myself at a little port called 'Perros-Guirec', on a day when the sun was shining and the wind had died-away. This is a really very quaint little port with a peaceful, relaxed feel about it. I took the opportunity to stretch my legs and found myself going a bit further than I had intended, that's okay cos it's a nice walk with pleasant views.
I then arrived at another wee beauty spot called 'Pointe de Bihit', a panorama on a hilltop and a vista  across the Atlantic Ocean (I had left the English Channel behind just before Perros-Guirec) These little coastal hamlets are good for the city-weary and the drive-bots. Okay, go-west.


Pleumeur-Bodou near Perros-Guirec


Pointe de Bihite near Perros-Guirec


Brest; welcomed with open shutters


Renault 16TX - don't see many of these now



Fri 25th Apr Penmarch, Trevignon

I had done some research before my trip and had a document that outlined all the many places I might want to visit. D-Day Beaches were a must, as was Mont St Michel. There were lots of places and I knew I wouldn't be able to visit all of them so I 'scored' them with marks from ten, the higher the score the bigger the attraction. It was a good idea but nothing's ever straight forward and the score-card kinda went by the wayside. There were a few places I had on my score-card that were graded '4' – not much to see or do and could defo be dropped. One of those places was a little harbour called 'Trevignon'; this is exactly what I'd written for Trevignon:

“Trevignon; hmmm – not much, quaint, some beaches 4/10”

It turns out, Trevignon was, for me, the little shining jewel on France's north west coast. It just happened to be sunny and very mild when I rolled into the port and I just liked the place instantly. It had a genuine and unpretentious charm, and a very welcoming layout that made me want to get out of the van and walk – and walk I did. I tackled the harbour walkway first (I know – they all have a walkway) then relaxed in the vibrant colours of the lighthouse, contrasty against the blue sky. Next was my exploration of the monstrous and multi-sculpted rocks that dominated the harbour and beyond; the Trevignon rocks seemed to have been visited, over many years, by an army of practising sculptors, each carving their own character onto the sea-scape – faces and animals jump out from all angles. Bundle all of these elements together – sun, blue sky, harbour wall, lighthouse, rocks, fishing boats – and set them against the sound of a churning, thrashing surf, then you have all the ingredients required for a major chill-out zone. 
I liked the look of the beach, it was on the opposite side of the village and it arced well into the distance, pure and defined, but not a soul on it. 'I must check it out', I thought. 
The odd thing about striding-out on walks that have 'landmarks' along the way, is that they tend to suck you into reaching one of those landmarks, then the next one then the next until you realise you've walked a fair-bit... By the time I'd reached the 'definitely' last landmark I was already pretty buggered – and then I had to go back. As always, I laugh about it now, but I was far from laughing as I resembled the very lame, struggling and dragging my laden body across the beach, desperate to collapse into my van and guzzle a gallon of water. 
I made it back to the van and I guzzled my water. Trevignon was a treat.

Apparently, German soldiers who were stationed in France during WWII were very fortunate – France was cushy, and I don't doubt that for a minute. You know, it must have been the rich German kids who were stationed in France, or the ones who were willing to 'go to any lengths' to be sent there... Just look at what those poor lads had to put-up with – ha! And then, when the war ended, they just marched over to the mayor's office, handed-over their Lugar pistol and said; 'Sank you, for se hospitality – it hass been a blast, ya?'...

I don't care much of a hoot for flowers, but it's not every day you drive past a field that's truly exploding with natural colour as this one, just north of 'Penmarch' did. I thought I should include it here, as this field of tulips made me slow down then stop, and I was impressed. Whadya thing guys?

I really don't know what this store could possibly be selling, maybe they heard I'd be in the neighbourhood?

Images of Trevignon



Touch the Atlantic Ocean



Sun 27th Apr

Royan ferry. 
I swithered whether to just drive around the estuary of the Gironde or take the ferry across to 'Le Verdon', I plumped for the ferry and I'm glad I did, as it it broke-up the monotony of driving and offered another view of an area of France that's off the beaten track. It was blowing a gale in that part of France and the short twenty minute crossing would've been an experience had we been crossing a larger expanse of water; I stood at the far-most corner of the stern (back-end of the boat...) and observed the horizon as, one minute it would disappear below the guard rail, and the next it would re-appear and rise way into the sky. Hey!..... 


Waiting to get on the ferry

Wind-swept and interesting.



SPAIN: Basques, smiles & sun.
Tue, 29th Apr Getaria, Guernica, Getxo

It's curious how a short-hop over the French/Spanish border can produce such a diverse change. Spain has a completely different and inviting ambience than the country and culture I'd left behind only a few miles ago. Not to say that I prefer one culture over the other, I haven't been in Spain long enough to arrive at that decision, but Spain suddenly feels more relaxed and certainly less urgent. Or maybe that's me I'm describing?
It was nice to get back to seeing the Atlantic Ocean again after having been driving 'inland' for what seemed like days. Getaria was the first part of Spain I set foot in and it's quaint Basque alleys and lanes, seagulls and sea-air were a real fillip after the tiring drive through France's border area. Getaria has its share of monuments and statues, proud statements of itself and its history, but I couldn't understand a word of inscriptions or plaques so I could only guess what those statements were. I had no problem, though, understanding the significance of the instantly reconisable Basque flag; the garish but similarly attractive symbol of Basque independence is seen frequently, gently reminding outsiders that they are in 'Basque' – not Spain.

When I watch the 'Tour de France' – cycling's premier road race – on television each July, and the race makes it's way over the Pyrenees mountains, the Basque flag is in abundance. The Basques are fiercely passionate about their identity and cultural differences and have a burning desire for independence from Spain. Hmmm?

Basque flags hanging from balconies

Getaria. This guy was a famous street busker in the 15th Century, he also played saxophone, long before it was invented. 
This is him singing just before he takes his sax from his case

Members of 'ETA', the Basque terrorist group are still serving time for crimes against the state. 
I'm thinking this 'Amnistia' could be a local protest for their release


Guernica is in the Basque north west of Spain. It was the first place in the world to be aerially bombed. As previously stated, the Basques consider themselves a separate nation and in 1937 General Franco, less tolerant of them, asked the German Luftwaffe to undertake the bombing of this civilian village. Around that time, a young artist was commissioned to undertake a work for the Spanish government, however, as news of the atrocity of Guernica made its way around the world, the young artist, struggling to be inspired by his latest work, felt a much more urgent statement was called for. Pablo Picasso's work – Guernica - is one of his most powerful and recognised pieces. The original work is in Madrid but the people of Guernika feel its home should be in Guernica, for Guernica. There is a replica of Picasso's work in one of Guernica's streets, located there until the original takes its place in the Guernica museum.

Guernica

This guy traveled around and saw many interesting things, met interesting people, played a bit of guitar

There are loads of donkeys all over northern Spain. Here's one (no wise-cracks)

Getxo (pronounce it 'getcho' like goucho) is an affluent town (the 'money' is here) with a really nice harbour area. 
Wide, spacey avenues, a port, parking and general accessibility make Getxo a traveller-friendly stop-off. The sun started to shine, warm and inviting, when I arrived here.
Check-out the Basque flag slightly above and to the right of the parked vessel



Wed, 30th Apr
Laredo

View from my hotel window



Thu, 1st May.
Posada, Camino de Santiago

I found a little inlet near 'Posada' – Playa de San Antolin

Another tough day at the office



In this part of Spain you see a lot of this sign at the roadside; 
it represents a scallop shell and it's the recognised sign telling pilgrims they're on the right track, or way, for the city of Santiago de Compostela. It's believed the remains of St James are buried in the cathedral there. The 'way of St James' is symbolically any route taken by pilgrims but which ends at Santiago de Compostela in the Galicia region of Spain.


Along the Camino there will be monasteries and other stopping places for the weary pilgrim to rest for the night. 'Monasterio De San Antolin' would have been one such place but unfortunately it's now run-down and derelict and has ceased to offer respite. 

Monasterio De San Antolin; the scallop shell logo is seen here

Old window


The horse of the Monasterio De San Antolin


Monasterio De San Antolin


One small part (that I endured) of the Camino de Santiago.
I'm not sure that these two ladies were actually doing the walk, if they were, they were definitely travelling light.

 
Most of the walkers you see are heavily-laden, with rucksacks the size of a man, all-sorts of cloth and material covering heads and faces to protect from the beating sun, and they struggle-along with stout walking canes and the like. And, all walkers have the appearance of suffering greatly...
There is a hierarchy of those who undertake this journey, starting from the walkers, naturally, then the cyclists, motorcyclists, then cars. Those who arrive in Ford Transit vans are at the very bottom of the ladder, considered unclean. Unclean?


Fri, 2nd May
On the road to A Coruna

Typical inlet en-route

So I said to this kid; “Do baby goats taste like chicken?”..

Another typical inlet en-route

Old Fiat; notice the car door opens from the front, with the hinge at the back. Some nick, eh?



Sat 3rd May 
Porto de Suevos, Farmers, Malpicas de Bergantinos, Santiago de Compostela

Spanish anglers take every opportunity to exploit the resources of the Atlantic Ocean; you see them in coastal towns, in harbours, in ports, at the water's edge. Quite right - the fish are plenty.

On the rocks




Ready to Navigate: Contemplating my next move


Just inland from the coast is farming and agricultural land. Rows of neat fields and furrowed lines of good, brown earth.

A field near Malpicas de Bergantinos. Working the land; a job for life


Malpicas de Bergantinos; a working harbour with real people.


This road leads straight down to the water's edge – the Atlantic Ocean


What do you see from your window?



All ready to harvest the seas


Repairing the fishing nets, umbrellas up, collars up, caps on - shielding from the hot sun. 
I bet these fishwives have a tale or two to tell?


Lost a hook? Broke a line? No problemo, Senor...
Vending machine for anglers' bits and bobs


The houses on the hill


Malpicas cat - having a peek



A whole street of this village (Buno) was given-over to a market for the day. Gadjies, Africans and tat in among the local wares, produce and wildlife

Leather bags; made in China, sold by Africans in Spain



Do baby ducks taste like chicken?
The guy had the birds separated 'Machos' and 'Hembras'

Wild orchids; back home they're considered a semi-exotic flower, to be given as a special gift to a favourite granny. They grow naturally here, wild and nonchalant. 
Sometimes you only notice them because you've walked through a haze of their sweet perfume, you look round to see where it's coming from



Santiago de Compostela
I referred earlier to the Camino de Santiago – the Way to Santiago - and how pilgrims from all corners make the journey here. It's said that the remains of St James are buried in the city's great cathedral. Many thousands make the pilgrimage, originated in the 9th c., to the city each year.

The glorious and imposing Catedral de Santiago de Compostela  – a sight for sore eyes for the far-journeyed

She arrived, her legs gave-out and she just collapsed in a heap in front of the cathedral... 
Eh, no – she was getting a better perspective for her photo album

Great doors with scallop shell stonework above

                                                                                                                                   They arrived on foot                                           by bicycle

                                                                                                                                     by taxi                                                                       by train

there were merchants


                                                                                            there were minstrels ...and the minstrels were ignored - nothing changes (I gave the guy a couple of bob)
 
The church, the busker and the perfect shot

I have to say that Santiago de Compostela was fantastic. It was the first day of the trip where the sun was really very hot, and the first evening when shirt sleeves was possible. The city had that 'continental' ambience that you only experience when you go on holiday to warmer countries and there was a friendly, relaxed air that seemed to adhere to everyone, including cynical-old me. 
It's a fact of life that wherever you have a great gathering of people, there will always have to be provision made for them; they have to be fed and clothed and accommodated, their needs and requirements fulfilled. However it has to be said, that although there was the inevitable touristy traps and peddlers, these were at a minimum and they were never over-powering, or omnipresent or offensive. Spain is a very religious country and it wouldn't surprise me that the city fathers maintain strict guidelines as to what is considered necessary and what's just-plain profiteering, tacky or kitschy. I'm sure it's a balancing act trying to maintain the reverence and dignity of this holy site whilst having to generate essential revenue in a modern, secular environment. 

I really liked it here and I would recommend it.


Portugal: short but very sweet
Sun, 4th May

Both Vigo and Bayona - on the western Spanish border - were nice coastal resorts with excellent beaches and clean Pacific water, but I had reached the limits of my oxygen this far into outer space, and I still had one more country that I wanted to dip my foot into before starting-back. I passed the 3000 mile mark on my way out of Spain and into Portugal, but I also gained back the hour I lost when I crossed the English channel. Portugal is on Western European Time (WET) which shares a similar world-time as the UK.

On the road to Portugal: higher than the clouds


I found the Portuguese to be a warm and friendly people with a ready smile and very willing to communicate in English (thank goodness for that). First impressions are so important when you encounter a new culture or enter a country and I like to think that the Scots are among the friendliest and most approachable nation on the planet. I felt a similar welcome from the people of Viana do Castelo and I also found their little coastal town to be, overall, very welcoming, lacking pretension and not trying to achieve any 'position' despite itself. The town had a series of roadside sculptures and statues that I found very interesting - but I was busy navigating and only managed fleeting glances, then when I tried to find them again I'd forgotten where I'd seen them...
I spent the night in Viana do Castelo then, in the morning, I took some pics and had a look round their castle walls with moat. Viana do Castelo represented the outermost reaches of my road trip and at around 2.30pm (Spain time) I started on the long, melancholy drive home..

Artistic roundabout; I think the theme here is of the sea
The Santa Luzia Basilica is seen, on the hill, in the background

Castle wall and moat

Harbour monument; this statue, not including the plinth, is around 30 feet tall
I've tried to find out more about this unusual work but it's proving difficult




Tue, 6th May
Back in Spain: Valladolid.

The drive through the Castile-Leon region of Spain towards Valladolid was breathtakingly beautiful; rows and rows of verdant fields and, unusually when compared to the rollings and undulations of the rest of the north, flat and stretching into the far distance. I tried to take photos whilst driving but they don't do the stunning vista justice. It wasn't unusual to see a solitary tree with a rich, green canopy situated in a never-ending field of equally striking green grass or vegetation, but that vegetation with an alternative shade of lush green. Picture-perfect. I kept thinking to myself; 'These people will never starve for there's enough growing here to feed millions'...

My one reason for coming to Valladolid was for a football match. End of story. Oh, okay, here's some more about Valladolid. 
I was fortunate enough to arrive in Valladolid right beside the football stadium, and a Carrefour (supermarket) – I could 'Favourite' those two landmarks right into my GPS without having to go searching for them. I took the opportunity to buy my ticket for tomorrow evening's match – Valladolid vs Real Madrid. 

Valladolid is a pleasant and friendly city with a nightmare traffic management system. You know, I really shouldn't judge these big cities by their traffic and how they manage that traffic cos all big cities have traffic and most simply can't cope - but some are worse than others. I'll get this rant out of the way before reminding myself of the good points. 
So I happened to take a mini countdown timer with me on this trip, to sound a bleeper after a given time – handy wee tool when you want to be reminded about passing time. Anyway, the timer also has a stopwatch facility that I rarely use, but I found an excellent way of placating myself, using the stopwatch, during the tedious and very aggravating multiple stops I had to make to cross the very shortest of distances in Valladolid. Whenever I was slowing-down to stop at a traffic light I would start the watch, when the light turned to green I would stop it again. I didn't zero the watch when I moved again, but let it continue each time whereby accumulating the total 'stopped' time. Considering that all I did the whole of one day and night was basically to go to the laundry, to McDonald's, and then to the football stadium just along the road, and that I'd covered a total distance for this day of around 25 miles, I noted that during the times in the day that I had to drive, I had been stopped and not moving for a total of almost 32 minutes at red traffic lights. Figure that one out. Between going ballistic in Bilbao, the purgatory of Pontevedra and venting my spleen in Valladolid, I simply cannot separate them for most proficient at raising my blood pressure - all of them are a driver's worse nightmare, a Room 101 for vehicles and visitors. Remind me to buy a house in the country when I get home, or in a secluded coastal village, or on the moon...

APART from all that. Valladolid has a marvelous public park right in their city centre. It's a real park, with trees and grass and ponds and live bands playing and – peacocks... 

Conquistadors; they popped over to South America and invited the natives to share and enjoy the new culture, promising gold and finery. 
Queen Isabella knew nothing about this


Quite a display


Proud owner of ticket for Valladolid vs Real Madrid match


30 minutes before kick-off
Check-out the Scottish Saltire in the extreme top-left hand corner of this shot - wonderful!
We Scots are all over the world


READ MY EXCLUSIVE MATCH REPORT ON THE 'SPAIN' PAGE - NOT TO BE MISSED !!!


Thu, 8th May
Superb day at Sad Hill. 

There is an after-dinner game known as 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' and it involves naming an actor or actress – from any movie from any era – and within six moves that person can be connected to Kevin Bacon. For example, if I said Harrison Ford as the opening candidate of the game, then you would have to find a movie or film star that connects Harrison Ford with Kevin Bacon, within a limit of six names. Let's give it a go (I plagiarised the following from the internet);

Harrison Ford starred in Patriot Games, which also starred James Earl Jones
James Earl Jones was in Conan The Barbarian with Arnold Schwartzenegger
Arnold Schwartzenegger starred in Twins with Danny DeVito
Danny DeVito was in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest with Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson starred in A Few Good Men – with Kevin Bacon.

What's all this to do with a road trip? Well, there is a connection, of a sort, but I do like movies and I happen to have a personal list of ten of my favourite movies of all time. Coincidentally, some of the actors in these movies have appeared in other movies of my top-ten.

Take 'A Man For All Seasons' – it has a prominent role for a very young John Hurt who also appears in another of my fav movies – 'Alien'.
'A Man For All Seasons' also features Robert Shaw who happens to star in 'Jaws' – a movie I so enjoyed that I had to see twice when it was released first time. 
'Jaws' has Richard Dreyfuss who was in 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' – another favourite of mine. Some of my favourite movies have no connections whatsoever with other favourites on my personal list;
'Star Wars' has no connection, 'Twelve Angry Men' has none and 'The Good The Bad and the Ugly' has none... But, what this last movie has that all the others don't is a final-scene movie location that was within my reach. The Mexican stand-off at the end of the movie, when 'Blondie', 'Angel Eyes' and 'Tuco' have a shoot-out to earn the right to have the gold is a movie classic with a wonderful and unforgettable soundtrack. Where was this legendary shoot-out filmed? I'll tell you; it was filmed in an extremely remote part of northern Spain, south-east of Burgos and right beside a little village called 'Contreras'. I can get there, Sad Hill cemetery is within my reach...

I spoke of 'connections' earlier; had it not been for the desire to see a football match in Valladolid, I would've had no reason to travel the relatively short distance to a completely out-of-the-way part of the country – and I would've missed the opportunity to visit a very authentic corner of Spain with a brief but wonderful movie history. I left the bustle of Valladolid and headed on the E80 road for ‘Burgos’. The 75 miles went very quickly on the smooth surface of the Spanish Autovia, but I knew I’d soon be joining a smaller road that perhaps wouldn’t be so easy-going. I seemed to be lucky again with the weather – or was I so lucky? This part of Spain probably enjoys 300 days of fine weather and little rain, let-alone frost or snow – a great place to film a movie!

I quickly found myself driving a small but manageable ‘National route’ – the N-234 road. This road cut right across some genuine Spanish terrain with no hint of a wi-fi router or a fast-food outlet for miles around. I couldn't resist stopping to investigate some very old ruins, and then climbing a dirt-track that led all the way to the top of a high hill. The views across the Spanish terreno were not only quite stunning but also very soothing – this was more like a Spain I’d imagined. So far so good; I had beautiful, warm sun, a clear sky and little traffic – but the best was to come.


The old and the eternal

View from the Top
 

My destination was ‘Contreras’, a village that lay around 35 miles south east of Burgos, nothing there save rows of furrowed farmland, plains and hills and shrub, a few farmhouses and dilapidated barns. What could possibly attract me to such a remote and unknown part of the country? I had little knowledge of exactly where I was going and relied completely on the GPS co-ordinates I’d punched into in my Garmin. These co-ordinates took me straight to Contreras, but according to my GPS I had around 3 miles still to drive. I continued until I passed through the closely-knit little village, feeling like an intruder, incongruous and inappropriate as my vehicle lumbered slowly, and in close-proximity, past the quaint Spanish dwellings with their hundreds of years of past and history. I wished I could ‘apologise’ to the residents for my intrusion and tell them I respect their village and would soon be gone, but, even had I wanted to stop, there was no one around. I was somewhat relieved as I got to the end of the village and found myself negotiating a smaller road, single-track and without a recognised route-number, then ultimately to a spot where my GPS would’ve had me driving beyond a fence and into a field. I stopped the van and got out.

In this very remote part of the country the surrounding hills rise up and dominate the terracotta earth and unevenly furrowed fields; distant and open, serene and eternally pleasant on the eye, hardly a solitary sound. I was enjoying this country and I felt very fortunate to have the experience of leaving the van and walking. The sign in the field confirmed I’d reached the place I’d been wanting to find; ‘Cementerio de Sad Hill’ – Sad Hill cemetery. I wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘mad Westerns fan’, no more than I would describe myself as being solely into Rock music or a single sporting activity, I like to think I’m open-minded enough to enjoy many genres of music and movies and sports. But It just so happens that the movie that was filmed here over 50 years ago had a wonderful combination of unforgettable movie soundtrack that married perfectly with a final scene that is still, to this day, considered absolutely classic. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly will always be in my top-ten fav movies and here I was, at the location of that final scene. Hey!

Cementerio de Sad Hill - Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach y Lee Van Cleef y Kenny Turner


After the anti-climax of the big football match yesterday, I was delighted to find myself in the most beautiful part of the Spanish countryside, perfect weather conditions, and able to wander through the location of a great movie, and, apart from the gas that brought me here, it didn’t cost a penny. I spent about 3 hours here, just wandering around, taking some photos, enjoying the nature - and having my bowl of soup. This was a cracking day and I drove away from that location grateful for it.


Lee Van Cleef ready to blow-away 'the other two'

Same spot, more trees, less gold

I'm not digging...

Visiting Sad Hill cemetery was a truly great wee day. A walk in the beautiful and very natural Spanish countryside relaxed me and made me see Spain through much more appreciative eyes. Recommended.


Sat, 10th May
The Dune of Pilat

When we were young teenagers we’d grab a British Rail Blue train to the coast. Sometimes we’d go to Irvine, sometimes to Helensburgh and sometimes we’d go to Prestwick. When we got our driving licence we’d drive to these places. I remember going to Prestwick in an early Ford Cortina (I like Fords) and thinking it would be cool to drive on the beach. We got stuck in the sand and had to pay a tow truck to pull us out of there cos we had a gig that night; I played for nothing at that gig, never drove on a beach since then. 

We liked Prestwick because it had sea and sand – lots of sand - and sand dunes, big sand dunes. It was nothing for us to run up and down those dunes all day long, jumping from the tops of them and landing half-way down, our fall being broken by the action of our feet and ankles being buried into the soft sand. Doubt if I could do that stuff more than once now without being out of breath after climbing to the top. Because of the fun we had at Prestwick I’ve always had a fondness for sand dunes.

The biggest sand dune in Europe can be found on France’s Bay of Biscay, on the Atlantic coast – it’s called the Dune of Pilat. I wanted to see this sand dune.

I had set my GPS for a road as near a location to the dune as I could, simply because I didn’t know where the start of the dune was. I just set-out and followed the GPS.

Apart from my GPS telling me how close I was to that random road, I knew I was near to the dune when I started to notice sand in amongst the forest that lined the road I was driving on – I must be close to the ocean. No discernible landmarks or stopping places, I drove until I approached the entrance to a camping site on my left; I stopped the van here and parked it on the embankment next to the camp site entrance. There didn’t seem to be anyone around as I made towards the camping site gates and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was restricted or not – so I just helped myself to entry, mingling with the others who were walking past the ‘sentry post’. I sauntered past tents and mobile homes, scattered around unevenly in the forest site, then walked past the shower rooms, WC and laundry without as much as a glance from the ‘residents’. I walked deeper into the camp site as I knew I’d be walking towards the sea and the dune. Then, between the branches of the pine trees, the dune came into site. Whooaw... I couldn’t believe this colossus. It was like a sheer wall, just going up in a vertical line from the edge of the forest and disappearing into the sky, taller than a high-rise block of flats. Incredible. There was a group of around five people who were about one hundred yards in front of me; they’d already started to tackle this Everest. I stood at the bottom, my head cocked right back and peering up at the monster that had presented itself to me – I’d never seen anything like it. There were people who were half-way up the mountain of sand who looked like they would fall off if they lost their footing. A challenge!



*Gulp !*
                    

I was no longer that teenager who’d been so energetic at Prestwick and, had it not been for the aluminium steps propped against the face of the dune, I doubt if I could’ve made it to the top – but if I'd failed, I would've failed in the attempt. I set out on the steps, my gait in a forward attitude to compensate for the angle of the dune face. I set-out briskly and with the energy of excitement and expectation driving me. I got about one hundred steps and glanced around to check my progress – a full view of the campsite was possible. After the first hundred steps my breathing became heavy and laboured, after-which I had to stop to gulp air every 20- 25 steps – I know it was 20-25 because I was deliberately counting them as I could manage no more than around 25, at most. The pitch of the angle was killing. I looked around again and was astonished to find I was not only well-above the diminishing campsite but above the canopy of the forest. I have to confess, the knowing just how high up I was and the consequences of tipping backwards freaked me out a little. I pushed the thoughts to the back of my mind and determined to continue. Twenty-five steps and stop, heart beating out of my chest, air being dragged into my lungs, heart-rate slows down again, start-out again. I repeated this discipline and checked my progress against the backdrop of the campsite and forest, both of which were now down there and in the distance. For all my progress and determination, I knew waiting up-ahead was another problem, an obstacle that made me deliberately avoid thinking about it for fear of abandoning the climb - the final thirty feet of the climb, where it seemed to be steeper, had no aluminium steps. I don’t remember how many times I had to stop on the ascent cos I was more interested in just getting up there, and that final, unassisted climb, was getting closer.

I launched myself off the last slat of aluminium and entered the world of ‘no safety net’, being extra careful not to look behind me, but focusing instead on the three people who were sat at the summit and who were also observing my progress. I was now on all-fours, scrambling up the gradient a hand and a foot at a time, panting like hell and still having to check my forward motion due to the workload. I wasn’t far now, just push-on a bit longer, the reward is waiting.

It was blowing a gale when I reached the top, the fine sand whisking-up and over the ridge of the dune, the temperature bordering on the cool side, but I’d been lucky with the weather conditions; any warmer and I’d have been severely punished during the climb, any cooler and it might have been uncomfortable so high up.

Once I regained my breath, the world of the dune opened-up to me. There were walkers and ramblers and day-trippers, all just enjoying the unique location, and then there were the model aeroplane enthusiasts and kite-flyers and kite-surfers, all taking full advantage of the perfect conditions - perfect for items not stuck to the ground. But the dune is so immense – over 360 feet high and more than 2 miles in length – that the numbers of people on the dune still looked sparse against the gargantuan volume of sand.

I had my camera with me and it was time to go walkabout.


Pre-flight preparations

Check wind direction

At one with his hobby




One minute he's in the air... next he's not
    
Fighting the beast - and not winning...
        
Live to fight another day

Sand in my shoes

High-flyers

Sand, lots of it

Don't look down!





Home

After leaving behind the Dune of Pyla I headed north again. I didn’t know it at the time but the dune was the ‘last’ day of my trip, after this it was home, home, home. En route I stopped at La Rochelle, toyed with going to the mega German WWII Submarine port but, after reading that it’s a restricted area, decided against it. I continued to drive toward Caen and, ultimately, to Oiustreham where my trip on the continent had all began and where it was about to end.

When I got to Ouistreham I made a snap decision to grab a ferry back to the UK. I think I’d gone as far as I wanted and could see no reason in hanging-around France any longer. I’d seen all I wanted to see in northern France and, if I had wanted to extend the trip further, I should’ve done so when I got to Portugal. But seeing as I had to be home for important birthdays, anniversaries, get-togethers, a broken-tooth issue and a possible faulty-brakes issue, it was a good time to head-home.

I finally arrived back in Paisley at 5.05pm on Tuesday 13th May - 28 days after escaping. I traveled exactly 5120 miles and my odometer said – wait for it – 99,999, it ‘went round the clock’ the following day when I went to Aldi for milk and other stuff.

I spent a total of £101.00 and €511.06 on diesel. The cheapest diesel was around €1.24 and the dearest was around €1.46. I never bought the dear stuff as I was never far from a supermarket that had diesel at the cheaper rate. I also spent €77.49 on French, Spanish and Portuguese road tolls - not bad considering the miles I covered. Mind you, I had intentionally taken the smaller roads so that I got the chance to see coastlines. My last fill-up before coming home was in Ouistreham, just before I grabbed the ferry. I filled it it up to the brim and I still had over a quarter of a tank left when I drove into my driveway 465 miles later - fantastic mpg!


I finished the Home Page when I got  back to Scotland but have still to complete the maps page. Good to be back home? beat-it..


Anyway, that'll be that.