Sorry we’re a bit behind. We’re having a couple of drinks now and recalling a stay that wasn’t funny at the time, but enough time has passed for our hippocampus to process the trauma.
We’ve changed some details to protect the shame of the Airbnb hosts who were actually super nice.
We booked a three night stay at a gorgeous place somewhere outside Barcelona. The listing called it “Little Abode”.
‘Little’, in real estate terms normally refers to the square footage but this is deceiving because it’s actually quite large …from a horizontal axis. From a cubed footage, not so much! It would be more accurate to call it “vertically challenged adobe” because if you’re taller than 5″10 you’ll be walking like the Hunchback of Notre dame.
The main house was fabulous and the host was a flamboyant camp Dutchman.
There was no wifi. We should have left then. The toilet didn’t flush without plumbing intervention. We should have left then.
Then his wife called. This caught us completely of guard. She came just as Hugh had done the biggest, most vile smelling poop you had ever experienced. It smelt worse than a public toilet … near an IBS support group.
We were in our polyester tracksuits we’d bought for €10 at Carrefour because it was SO COLD in the little abode. Or as Hans said “A little chilly huh?”. Hugh was in his mismatched PJs consisting of a faded Buzz Lightyear top with three day old weetabix crusted into the neck and sleeves and some Olaf bottoms.
I opened the door ready to moan about the toilet and lack of…. human necessities, when the most immaculate, well groomed and classy woman I’ve ever encounter greets me. She looks like the woman in that painting of a lady dancing in the rain in Paris that populates every restaurant wall and rental house.
Hans suddenly looks straight and her son – same age as Hugh looks like he is heir to the kingdom of Monaco.
She then explained that Hans had taken a look at the toilet and all you need to do is take off the lid, perform surgery on the innards of cistern and voila “fixed”.
She then wishes us a happy stay.
If we hadn’t felt completely intimidated by their aura of perfection we may have seen through their cunning plan to subdue us. Still, we found ourselves complementing how nice they were and stayed the entire three nights despite the house being a complete bag of spanners.
Fortunately we weren’t paying very much for this place because it was about to be upgraded to include a swimming pool, outdoor cinema, wifi, dignity etc.
What was truly remarkable was how little there actually was. TV? No. Chopping board? No. Kettle? Let that sink in… No TV and No Internet.
What they did have was lots of staff, nannies, gardeners, maids. We had time to ponder and wondered if they wanted to leave too, like we did. But never actually did it? What was this force that kept us all here?
One night as we sat talking (remember, no tv or internet!) one of the light fittings fell out of the ceiling! We told them and they just smiled and thanked us for brining it to their attention. They smelled like caviar and yacht cleaner. They were so divine we let it go.
Driving through the town one day we saw a street sign called “Dr Hans” and we joked that maybe it was named after him and he was in fact a kind childrens Doctor and a local hero.
The real joy was during check out. Now after 18 years together we have formed a type of telepathy and Neil sends me a confusing psychic message. It sounds like “I can see his nob”. I turn around and Hans is wearing a lycra workout unitard! Nothing is left to the imagination. He seems camper than ever and we decide to find out as much as we can about him. And you know what? He is a DOCTOR!! He also worked the United Nations and should know better regarding the treatment of captives. The right to stand up straight is protected under the Geneva Convention.
We ask him how he finds hosting Airbnb’s and he tells us that he has a couple and that he has only had the most wonderful guests. He said the best bit is people kindly buy supplies and leave them there so you don’t need to buy that much to start with!! Guessing he is hoping someone will buy him a telly!
We tell him that we’re heading to the south of France and his words have stuck with us to the point where we repeat this quote several times a day now and it took everything in our being not to cry with laughter when he said it. Imagine the voice of Franc from Father of the Bride “The south of France is fabulous. Not like here, Spain, ugh sooooo working class!”
We leave madly in love with these two fabulously eccentric oddballs. We will never stay in your Airbnb again but would totally be your friends and stay in your big house!
We almost skipped Portugal, as we were in Northern Spain we considered cutting straight to southern Spain, maybe even to Barcelona, maybe just turn back and head towards Italy. But Neil has been to Portugal as a teenager and a couple of times with work and liked it. Plus what else do we have do?!
We decided to do a run from San Sebastian to Porto with one overnight stop (Our version of slumming it this time was a regular Ibis- no more budget crap!)
Northern Spain is a lot like Northern France. There’s a whole lot of nothing there! We’d go miles without seeing a single car on the road. And it’s not like we’re on some back road, we’re on a main motorway an hour from the countries capital city at 5.30 on a weekday. Spain’s equivalent of the M25 and no one is there!
We’d see masses of open flat space with the occasional abandoned building followed by a town crammed with high-rise flats, perilously built on the side of a cliff!
At a service station we may have encountered our first scammers. We parked next to a German car and Neil got out. – Those who know me, know I love a bit of disaster preparedness. I think if you prepare for the very worse outcome (and I’m talking nuclear war or coronal mass ejection from the sun – that sort of thing) getting scammed by a couple of Germans doesn’t seem like a terrible thing to happen.
Neil had been talking to them a while. I check for escape routes, hover my finger over the lock button and initiate my ‘anti car jacking’ plan (totally enjoying pretending I’m some sort of badass ninja in my imagination).
Neil gets back in and I lock the car. The young German couple have had all their belongings stolen and have no money, they need money to fill up their car to drive to Bilbao to get to an embassy. Probably a scam.
We take a hard look at them, they’re young, the girl is seriously pissed off. Could be because she has just had all her stuff stolen, could be because she is going to get knee-capped if her boyfriend doesn’t pay his drug baron’s henchman in an hour. Eitherway we decide to give them some money. We’d rather be scammed than allow scepticism and fear prevent kindness. Plus we might need the kindness of strangers if all our stuff gets stolen one day…. or maybe sooner, lets get out of here! We give them some biscuits too (because we’re super nice) and get out of there before the person collecting the money turns up! (Remember we can only negotiate drug deals in Spanish, Not German!)
The trip across Spain was long and a bit dull. But we found a town called Vagos! This service station had a small playground which was the highlight of Hugh’s trip so far.
About halfway across Spain it started to snow! SNOW!!! On our search for the sun!
This continued all the way to the Portuguese border!
But the further into Portugal we got, it warmed up (7 degrees in a matter of miles!)
We arrived at our new airbnb just outside Porto. We had decided to stay in the suburbs this time. Near a train station so we could access the town easily.
However, news had arrived that my brother and his wife had had their baby, Liana. So I popped on a plane at Porto airport (15 mins from our house) and was in Gatwick 2 hours later!
Spending time away from Hugh and Neil is a complicated mix of feelings. Mostly awful guilt but also guilty pleasure. I was only gone a few days but it was nice to stay with my Dad and be a kid again. I got to indulge in things like having my own bed, laying in the bath for an hour and getting lifts to my friends house!
It was also a good chance to do all those necessary jobs like go to the bank, open the post, check on the houses, buy supplies.
We also took an entire bag back home and dumped at John and Kaz’s! We know we have over packed. Most of it was Hugh’s toys. Big teddy bears we thought he couldn’t live without, an entire bag of Duplo which gets left EVERYWHERE at every place we stay. I’d rather saw off my arm than pick up another piece of Duplo (mild exaggeration).
There was half a library of his books. We’d also sold our car after moving out of our house and you wouldn’t believe what we are carting around from clearing it out. A manky old umbrella (still got that!), various hoodies and old shoes found in the boot, birthday and thank you cards for relatives (undelivered) found under car seats and season six of the X-Files found in the glove compartment. It’s reason for being in the car is a mystery worthy of Mulder and Scully themselves!
Meanwhile in Porto Neil and Hugh were having a great time. On the morning that they dropped me to the airport I negotiated a simple choice with Hugh “Would you rather get in the car or would you rather I feed you to a Lion?”
He picked the Lion. And he got real excited about it. He jumped in the car and went on about this bloody Lion all the way to the airport. When I landed at Gatwick Neil sent me this picture:
Porto and by extension, Portugal ended up being our favourite destination so far. It has a lot of pro’s:
It produces Port
The shops are always open… even up until 11pm on a Sunday!
Everyone speaks English but not in a touristy way
You can drive straight into town and park, in a lot of places its free
Netflix has EVERYTHING, it’s better than UK and US combined!
Modern and efficient airport with cheap flights home
It’s warm and sunny!
What was interesting was the large number of abandoned homes. Our Airbnb was very close to the sea and there were lots of restaurants dotted along the sea front. There were a string of proper posh mansions on the beach front but some of them were completely abandoned – for years! The economic crash of 2008 hit Portugal pretty bad and by 2010 it applied for a bailout from the IMF. We only seem to recall Greece and Iceland hitting the headlines though! Things have been slow for the Portuguese since and there are now more properties than people in the country.
Other than the abandoned properties we didn’t see much evidence of hardship. All the houses we wanted to buy were still over €1 million! (Poor us).
We have a tradition and that is always visiting a Hard Rock Cafe. It started when Neil was a kid. He liked the restaurants because he is a cool rocker! He’d always get a T-Shirt or badge when he visited one. We can’t remember why but we thought it would be fun to collect a shot glass from a Hard Rock cafe each time we were in a city that had one.
This once spiralled into the epic new years resolution of 2013/14 where Neil had to arrange a group trip to three Hard Rock Cafes, in three Countries, in three days. BTASAT.
It’s also customary to order a Hurricane. Actually, it’s more like a sacred duty now. Another reason why Portugal is awesome. They let infants sit at the bar!
It was now 11am and we were feeling lightheaded and dehydrated with a slight sense of Deja vu.
As Porto is the home of Port we thought it only polite to visit a Quinta (we learned this means ‘big house’ in Spanish, we are smart now). Also, we are mildly intoxicated and the decision to go drink more is exacerbated by the decision to drink. It’s a vicious circle.
It was a short walk to the Quinta (see how casually we use our new word?)
Short walk my arse! It was 15 minutes of pure agony! You can’t appreciate how steep this incline was. And no one with size four feet and under thinks cobbles are a safe and efficient surface! This was pure agony.
But we had the promise of alcohol to keep us going!
We’ve done a few alcohol tours in our time! Champagne houses in Epernay and Distilleries in Kentucky and Tenneesee, so we know the drill. But we have never done it with a two year old! Guess who doesn’t enjoy learning about this history and production of wine? Hugh. I’m not going prejudge all two years or attribute it to his age but Hugh didn’t really care what grapes they used. Or the complex relationship between Portuguese growers and the English buyers in the 17th Century. He didn’t seem vaguely excited by the tasting session and was more taken with a peacock wandering around the grounds.
So we didn’t learn very much about Port at all. Except they make it in Porto. At the top of a painfully steep hill.
We actually wished this was full of water and Nurofen.
We are aware our blog is sounding rather Karl Pinkington, we assure you we are having fun but the unglamorous parts are so much more entertaining and where memories are made.
Fed up with France’s lazy attitude towards customer service, we point the car toward Spain and don’t look back.
When we were in Biarittz last week it had been warm and sunny. Just 20 minutes down the road San Sebastián was hitting the high twenties.
We were excited about San Sebatian. We have heard about its food reputation (and remember, Neil likes to eat!). In fact it’s so popular amongst foodies that the most foodie friends we have, named their baby after the city!
We were looking forward to being in a city, with life, people, cars and shopping after being in France where, no kidding, we could have bought a Renault with more ease than buying basic food and water.
We got to our apartment which is on the fifth floor over looking the river facing the old town in the Gros district. Amazing views, ideal location.
We were uncharacteristically early for check-in and Hugh was hungry. Like – need food now hungry. We dashed around for something to eat. You know what I’m going to say don’t you. No not baguette. I’d watch the three of starve before I surrender to another baguette. It was Siesta, everything that wasn’t already shut on account of it being Monday, was shut for siesta. The only thing we could grab in the town that boast the most Michelin stars per metre was a McDonalds.
Never mind, it’s just one meal. We check in, get Poppy settled and explore the city. The weather isn’t great. We bet this city looks amazing in the sun. At the moment it looks like a slightly less angry London.
All the bars are open and locals are knocking back Rioja and eating the most delicious looking pinxtos (tapas indigenous to this region). We make note of all the ones we want to go back to for dinner.
When the time comes we walk back and guess what? They’re ALL closed! They don’t open until 8pm. Which would be great three years ago but with a toddler, that ain’t much fun. We walk tirelessly up and down the quaint old town looking for somewhere, anywhere to eat. We can’t cook in because we don’t have a dishwasher.
Eventually we find a place…. A burger restaurant.
Also for all our complaining about France, one advantage we have is that we can get by with the language. We don’t speak French but we can understand enough of the basics to get by. The only Spanish we know is from Breaking Bad which mostly consists of racial slurs towards white people. Verbally, we have more confidence purchasing crystal meth, than a happy meal. But that’s another story althogether (BTASAT).
Back to the burger restaurant. Not only had we managed to find the ONLY restaurant open in San Sebastián, it also happened to be the most shit! Every guide we have read about this town, say it’s almost impossible to have a bad meal. But we found it. Not only that but each time we tried to order a glass of wine, they’d bring us a massive beer! (Watching Neil drink a pint is like hearing the Queen fart, it doesn’t seem right).
We go back to the apartment and watch Battlestar Galactica.
After another grumble we tell ourselves to the man the fuck up. If you can’t beat them, join them. So we research this “siesta”. We were aware of it before coming to Spain, we knew it was a thing, but thought it was more for those sleepy villages in the middle of nowhere where most employees are in semi retirement and could do with a nap, or for the equivalent of Spanish daily mail readers who want to hang on to some irrelevant tradition. We didn’t expect it to be something economically active citizens who contribute to the running of all sectors and industries were expected to participate in.
Something else I found interesting (and also relieving) is that the current government is planning to abolish it and move the country to GMT which is where it’s supposed to be (geographically). Unemployment is at 21% here in Spain, which is hardly surprising. What global industry would invest in a place where business hours are shut down for nap time! It’s not as if you can do anything productive in your siesta like get a haircut or go for lunch.
Day two, we have it all planned. We’ll get up and have breakfast down the road. Then we’ll explore the town some more and then eat our main meal at midday, trying all those delicious pinxtos and wine at those cute bars in the old town. Then we’ll come home have a siesta before heading out again at 7 for something lighter. Hugh can stay up later because he slept in the day.
We had researched which places were decent and open (none of them were open, obviously). But we found our Pinxtos. And they were frickin delicious! We ate loads. Then we asked the barkeep to bring us his favourite wine. And you know what? that was very good too! And then we saw the bill. Ohh well, we were happy.
Onto the next place. We found a restaurant and ordered a three course meal. The starter was amazing, God knows what it was. For the mains, I was in the mood for paella. I had the best paella ever once in New Orleans and I dream about it to this day.
I’m not a big lover of fish and especially not shelled fish. Don’t like it, yuck. But every now and then I reasses my tastes. I’d prefer to like these foods. I knew the seafood paella would come with shelled prawns but I decided to man up.
I got further than I had ever done before, I snapped of its beady little head. Then it’s brains flew out and I called it a day. I just don’t understand the love of shelled fish, it looks hideous and is basically a wrapped up 50/50 prize between a delicious delicacy or explosive diarreah.
Neil – who never wins the good prize when eating prawns (BTASAT) enjoyed his steak but his favourite part was watching me eat the prawns. Here’s a picture of him encouraging me to eat a muscle.
I ate the muscle, it felt like I ate a fetus.
Luckily the meal came with a bottle of wine which we didn’t waste.
We finished the meal and waddled back to the apartment before the dead hours began. As we sat indoors with our full bellies and aching heads, watching the rain pour down we felt the siesta calling us. Our eyelids got heavy, the sofa seemed extra snuggly… Ahh this was going to be bliss. Except… Hugh doesn’t nap! Hugh NEVER naps. Getting him to go to sleep each night is a sheer miracle. So we didn’t have a relaxing afternoon. It was more endurance waiting for bed time whilst a hangover set in. Bliss was when he fell asleep and we watched Battlestar Galactica.
On our final day we thought we’d repeat the format but with less alcohol before midday! It had been raining the entire time we were there which meant we had missed out on some sights but it stayed clear enough to take Hugh to one of the many parks. To our surprise and amazement one of our top recommended bars was open so we grabbed some more pinxtos. If yesterday’s were excellent, these were like drops from heaven. Slow cooked veal cheek, foie gras, paella (but you know, fancier) and pork – which Neil later told me was pigs ear and I imagine he chuckled to himself for some time after watching me eat it.
Washed down with one modest glass of red wine. We feel so grown up!
We encountered our first English speaking tourists next to us and almost talked to them. It started by them asking us if they could have a chair, but in that way where they think we’re foreign so the point and say “chair” in a funny accent that doesn’t belong to them, in the hope that I’d understand. I respond by flapping my hands saying “Si, Si” in a weird accent, hoping that means ‘yes’. She doesn’t understand and we continue this banter that looks like a naff expressive dance with exaggerated grins to donote to each other we are non threatening.
Soon after we realise we’re both British.
I always find it comforting when I encounter British people abroad. You can finally engage in all that crap small talk you try to avoid at home. Or it goes the other way and you want to run away for fear of association.
In these tapas bars, you can spot the locals because they’re scoffing food and laughing and joking. The Brits (and Aussie) next to us ….well… One of the men almost slapped the tapas out of the hand of his friend because she was eating it in the wrong order and risked “ruining her palate”. They also used words like “molecular” and “experimental” and other words synonymous to “twat” to describe their food… WHICH WAS ALL THEY TALKED ABOUT!!!
Overall we liked San Sebastián, it grew on us the more we explored. We put it in the same category as San Francisco where it had been so hyped with promises that it would be our new favourite place to visit that it could never live up to expectations. We wish we had come here years ago with friends so we could explore the nightlife. There’s also the weather, any city suddenly becomes the best city in the world when the sun is out.
We also have decided to try a different type of Airbnb next time. So far we stayed in a gite (wrong!), apartments in a town (good) and a very nice modest house in the country (very good), next we’re going to try a bigger home in the suburbs near a town.
It’s fun to stay in people’s homes rather than hotels. Check out how this place does their laundry:
Those huge windows open up in the bathroom right next to the toilet so you can have a sit and talk to your neighbour it seems! Suffice it to say we didn’t hang our washing out, mostly because it would come back smelling of pedros-next-door funky tobacco.
We had initially planned to head straight to San Sebastian but Biarritz had improved our mood towards France slightly. This happens to us EVERY time we come to France, as we stated in this post, it’s like a bad ex we keep sleeping with, remembering only the good times and forgetting that we don’t know how to function under their authoritarian retail opening hours.
Those who know me will know I’ve got a side hustle, I do Match Betting to make extra pennies. And by pennies I mean I’ve made thousands of pounds since I started a year ago (humble brag). The Cheltenham races were approaching and bookies go crazy with offers and there’s lots of money to be made. What I needed was somewhere with good wifi where I could sit for four days straight and concentrate. We were also a bit fatigued from lots of stops and would all benefit from being settled somewhere for a week.
We also have a daily budget for accommodation and if we can get something cheaper for a while it means we can afford more luxury when in popular locations. We searched airbnb for a wide area around the Basque region of France and Spain. Neil spotted a modern and clean looking house. Only downside was it was in the middle of rural France. But cheapest one yet at half our budget.
It took us forever to find it. Our phones wouldn’t get a signal and we resorted to knocking on a random house asking for help. The kindly escorted us!
We were blown away by this house. The airbnb profile pictures don’t do it justice. It was decorated to a very high standard and with all the amenities we needed, views of the Pyrenees, It even has a swimming pool!
The nearest town was much closer than we anticipated and is like a market town. It has everything we need accept for the draconian retail opening rules. Want to shop between the hours of 13:00 – 15:00? Non! Which is crazy because those are literally the only hours we have been sober enough to travel to a shopping centre.
Whilst I was making money with my gambling habit, Neil was exploring with Hugh, buying baguettes, wine, cheese and generally transforming into a Frenchman. The owner of this house has all the cooking utensils he likes and I’m pretty sure he will make an offer on this place in the next week!
I had a successful four days at Cheltenham (from behind my screen), walked away with £500 and left the house for the first time five days later!
I had seen nearby some caves where they found evidence of people living 10,000 – 80,000 years ago! I really wanted to go so we paid it a visit. It opened at 2pm, we left at midday because we had to get lunch first. By the time we got there it was 12:50. Could we find one bloody shop or restaurant?? We managed to find a boulangerie. This is what Neil came back with.
Let me set the scene. We are in are car. We have NO utensils. We are parked in the middle of nowhere. Neil has bought two baguettes, a tin of tuna, a tin of pate and two large packets of crisps (only one photographed!).
We had a bit of a ding dong over this. Neil defending himself that this was all there was. Why would you buy it all though!!?
This was our convo
Sam: Why have you bought all of this?
Neil: It’s all they had
Sam: What are you planning to do with it!?
Neil: We can have pate and hugh can have the tuna
Sam: An entire tin of tuna? an entire tin of pate? TWO MASSIVE PACKS of crisps!? TWO baguettes!? How are you going to drain the tuna?
Neil: What would you have got?
Sam: I’m just going to eat a bit of this baguette
Neil: Dry!? (He would have sounded less disgusted if I had suggested rubbing it against the asphalt for seasoning)
Neil then cracks open the pate which we kid-you-not looked, smelt and tasted like cat food (was probably cat food). It was so bad we had to keep it outside the car until we found a bin. We all ate a dry baguette and one bag of crisps. The tuna never happened.
Onto the caves! We couldn’t really understand the tour guide but could make out that this was ancient (millions of years old). The etchings in the rocks were very cool. Apparently this cave was a bustle of activity, starting as a dwelling for neanderthals and then a hub for early humans. They believe that there was a trade route in the mountains of the Pyrenees with evidence of a barter system. This place would have been busy with people trading art, tools and food.
They probably all died out when a ban on shopping during most daylight hours was introduced across France.
Now it’s Sunday and we leave tomorrow for San Sebastian in Spain. Neil is now in a settled routine and does his usual trip to the shops to gather the days food. Also the car needs a thorough clean. We thought we were ahead, but as usual, France pushes back.
Everything is closed ALL DAY on Sundays. Everything except the fucking boulangies and their fucking baguettes!! Guess what we’re having today?
Our next first world problem. There’s not a person in sight to wash our car! (this is a vision of post brexit britain btw!). Neil has to get some change for a car wash, he goes back to the bread house and asks, in poor French. The shop keeper was very abusive to Neil and told him to get lost. Apparently Neil tried to explain by waving his arms saying “MON – EY!!” and pointing at the till!
In the end Neil had to break €10 on the only thing you can possibly buy in France on a sunday……
That’s it. We’re never coming to France again. … probably… maybe?
BTW, as I always get asked. Match betting isn’t really gambling. Its a very low risk way of making tax free income. There are plenty of stories about how people make thousands a month. I’m not one of them but I can make hundreds when I put the time in. I use a service called Profit Accumulator (full disclosure: Affiliate link) which is literally the idiots guide and spoon feeds you what you need to know. I’ve used it a year now and it is superb.
If you don’t know Neil, then there’s something you need to know about him. The guy likes to eat. His favourite quote is Nigella’s “never knowingly under-catered”. His biggest fear in life is that we don’t have enough food. Every Christmas eve he visits the supermarket three times to make sure we have EVERY thing we can possibly need, in abundance so we will survive the next two days with only a Tesco Express open to sustain us.
So when we woke at the airbnb in the middle of know-where with NOTHING in our fridge. We had food, but not milk, or butter. I woke up and Neil was gone. I knew where he was. He had gone to the shops! Rather than just give Hugh a packet of crisps for breakfast and aim the car towards civilisation he went hunting/gathering for the patisserie that exists in his imagination. It’s got a pink facade, cursive typeface on the storefront and a bountiful supply of fresh baked goods such as cakes, pies, artisan breads.
He was gone 90 minutes on this futile away mission and returned with the two most miserable baguettes you had ever seen and a bag of individually wrapped pain au chocolat’s that made France’s soul weep. Neil looked pretty crushed so I wasn’t going to berate him too much why he thought two baguettes and 6 pain au chocolats were were an appropriate quantity for two adults and a toddler.
We grumbled about France, got in the car and headed south. We made a quick stop in Le Mans. Neil goes there every year for his man trip to the racing so it was nice to see all the places he talks about. One thing good about France is they are very dog friendly. We found a restaurant that allows dogs. Poppy was surprisingly well behaved and sat in her bed under the table for the entire meal.
Whilst in Le Mans, me and my dad were texting. He was driving back to the UK from south of Spain. We asked each other where we were and he said “just north of Le Mans”! We were on the same road going the opposite direction.
Neil had booked an Ibis somewhere near Futuroscope. We weren’t going to make the same mistake as yesterday so we ate big at lunch time and stopped at a shop to get something small we can eat at the hotel. Decided to be French and have a baguette and cheese.
To say the Ibis was shite was an understatement! Ok, it was what it was, if it were cheaper than it would be tolerable but it was very basic! It smelt like beer and disappointment. And we were surrounded by lots of nice restaurants so got to look at them whilst chewing on our baguette and cheese.
Next day we leave early and head for Biarritz. We picked this from a book Neil’s mum gave us about European cities. As we got closer it got warmer. The clouds parted, the thermostat went up.
When we arrived we had to double check we had got the price right. Maybe it was the drastic comparison from the last two days accommodation but we were now in prime real estate, with a stunning view and other people. When we met with the Airbnb host she said we were lucky that we had arrived off season so the prices were low but it just happened to be 25 degrees celsius.
The apartment was a a converted hotel, reasonably large. It was on a tall peninsula that overlooked the beaches and the lighthouse. Once we checked in we ran towards the nearest bar!
France redeems itself
Poppy has her own instagram @pissedoffpoppy
View from our bed
Blowing the budget on day one
Best bit about Biarritz, is they have Neil’s patisserie that exists in his imagination. It also has the perfect market with lots of yummies. The downside is that everything is shut most of the day!
We were reluctant to leave Biarritz. Neil liked going to his boulangerie in the morning and we liked eating our baguettes on the beach like all the natives. Everything was in walking distance and EVERYONE has a little dog. You see the occasional regular sized dogs and big dogs but little dogs seem to outnumber them vastly. Little dogs have fallen out of fashion in Britain. Strangely it seems it’s the same people who criticise celebrities for having small dogs as fashion accessories who have some mean comment about a little dog. Poppy gets her fair share of hassle back home for not being a “proper” dog but here she was accepted and loved by everyone.
We reluctantly left and headed back inland towards the Pyrenees.
Our original plan was to bypass France altogether. We’d sail from our home Portsmouth straight to San Sebastián. In our imaginations we’d literally be able to wave goodbye to our house from the ship and arrive at sunnier climes.
But there were no dog friendly cabins available until 2032. So we resigned to taking the much more dog friendly Euro Tunnel and drive across France to get to Spain.
Let me just explain our complex relationship with France. We LOVE the idea of France. The wine, champagne drinking, croissant and cheese culture sounds perfect. France is our ex who we keep sleeping with and waking up horribly disappointed.
Everytime we come here we give up and go to Disneyland instead.
The only exception to this is the South of France. Towns like Nice and Cannes that exist in a different timeframe from the rest of the nation.
We hope to visit those parts later.
Back to the journey. We booked our very first airbnb. It looked quaint, but a bit remote.
What we don’t get about France, is where the fuck is everyone!? It’s like driving around after an apocalyptic event. 6pm on a Wednesday on a major road = No other car in sight. 7pm through a village or town = not one light visible through a window.
We finally make it to our airbnb at 7.30. The owner greets us, shows us around and then retreats back into darkness to the house next door. Only there is NO visible sign anyone is there!
Meanwhile the house we’re staying in is lit up like the National Lampoons Christmas Vacation House and is probably accountable for 20% of northern France’s entire carbon footprint tonight.
Dinner time right? WRONG. We are in France! Just pop out for dinner? Can’t, it’s gone 8pm. Pop to the shop? Can’t. It’s 30km away and why would it possibly be open?
Neil had the look of horror when I suggested cooking Hughs Pepper Pig Pasta with Baked Beans. But if he insisted on packing them then he has to eat them!
Join us tomorrow when we will probably buy a house here.
“Where’s your first stop?” Everyone asks us. They await the smack of envy but we disappoint them with the name “Chichester”.
Here’s the thing about moving out and preparing for an unknown trip in two weeks. IT CANT BE DONE!! There’s not enough time. Especially with a 2 year old.
We checked into a lovely holiday cottage in Chichester to tie up loose ends. Lame jobs like selling one of the cars, cancelling all the utilities (actually rather liberating!), Making sure the dog is OK to travel and meeting up with your besties to get wrecked one last time!
Problem is, this place is SO nice it has set the bar very high for the rest of the trip!
We have even joked …’joked’ that we might just stay here for a year but tell everyone we have gone to all these exotic locations. All we need is Neflix and a convincing green screen!
The cottage is one of five at Flintstone Cottages and comes with everything you want (and need) including super fast internet connection (makes up for the poor mobile signal), dishwasher, washing machine, massive bed with posh topper, massive shower and Neil’s favourite – a wood burner.
How we haven’t had the complex evacuated on a nightly basis is a miracle. Every night Neil lights this fire and every night it fills smoke quicker than kids in a bike shed. (This is not Neil’s fault, he is perfectly capable of lighting a fire, I have been informed).
Nonetheless one of us ends up holding the doors open whilst another frantically waves the smoke away from the alarms!
The second question people ask us is “where next?”. Queue more disappointment when we say “we really don’t have a plan”. And that’s the truth! We set sail tomorrow and aim for France. Once we’re there we’ll have plenty of time to plan where next. That’s if we ever leave Chichester… Through choice or sheer weight of traffic!