Friday, April 20, 2012

Our Holiday Begins

After a dreary English winter, we were pleased to have a gloriously warm March that saw record temperatures up around the 16 - 18 degree mark most days and 19-23 on the really good days. Unfortunately, April saw an end to that, and brought the 'April Shower' - an intense burst of rain, sometimes with hail or thunder, that blows through quickly and is often followed by a brief period of blue sky and sun. This can happen numerous times throughout a day, and the weather for much of April has trended this way. May is looking to continue the grey, rainy trend, and as one recent letter to the editor of the Evening Standard commented, 'this must be the wettest drought on record'. I concur.

In light of this, we were extremely lucky to have planned an overseas holiday for 8 days in late April, and as it turned out, we escaped a week of horror weather here in the UK, and our neighbour told us we were fortunate to miss golf-ball sized hailstones!

With sunny Mediterranean days in mind, we left London on Wednesday April 18. We began our journey with a one hour train ride to London Gatwick Airport, then flew Easy Jet to Barcelona.

Easy Jet, one of the two main low-cost British airlines, was not as bad as as we anticipated after hearing horror stories about delays, cleanliness, and stampedes for the unallocated seats. The service didn't seem that different from what you get on a trans-Tasman Pacific Blue or Jet Star flight, and we had no problems. We were lucky to get a whole row of seats to ourselves as the plane was only half-full.

Customs at Barcelona was quick, and we are the proud recipients of six new passport stamps (Two each from Spain and one from Gatwick) - mine now has a total of 7 stamps in it!!

After collecting our luggage, we headed off to the Avis terminal, well-rehearsed Spanish phrase on the tip of my tongue, to collect our rental car.

Unfortunately the Spanish Avis staffer didn't have the same script as I did, and responded in rapid-fire Spanish, to which we had to reply "Er, sorry. Do you speak English?"

The journey through the centre of Barcelona in 5pm traffic was hairy - I think we both (me, the driver, and Adam, the passenger) were equally scared by the new experience of driving a left-hand drive on the right (=wrong) side of the road!

Once again, I would like to praise the invention of the GPS - a truly marvellous machine. We thoroughly recommend them, especially to married couples!

After over an hour of driving, we arrived safely at our beachfront hotel in Pineda de Mar, a small town on the coast north of Barcelona. The town is located in Catalonia and apparently has a population of over 25,500 people, though it seemed pretty sleepy to us.

Again, I tried my fantastic Spanish phrase, thinking I'd be better prepared, but alas, the hotel receptionist had a different script too and we again had to confess our ignorance of the Spanish language.

We bravely headed out for some dinner, only to discover that many Spanish restaurants don't open until 7pm (a trend that was to plague us in France also, especially annoying for us early eaters). With our very limited Spanish, we decided to play it safe and ended up buying a basic tea of pastries from one of the local bakeries that was still open.

A Beautiful Day!
It's amazing how easily one can get by with 'Hola' (Hi), 'Gracias' (Thank You), 'Si' (Yes) and some pointing. (Wished we had the effervescent Hannah Burnell with us to act as translator though :) )

One thing that did take us a while to work out was why our hotel appeared to be overrun by "white-haired" people (or as the French say, those in the 'Third Age'). Everywhere we went there were groups of seniors standing around or slowly making their way up ramps or into lifts. It wasn't until we handed our key over at reception the next day that we noticed (and managed to translate) the large sign reading "SENIORS WORLD" in the hotel lobby, and we understood that there was some sort of gathering happening.

The next morning we woke bright and early and after a hotel buffet breakfast, walked across the road to the beach and then looked around the town centre.
Me getting some Mediterranean air

Cheered by the sun and fresh sea air, we headed back to the car and continued our great adventure, programming our trusty GPS for France.
The Spanish roads were great - we took 'national roads' that were slightly smaller than the large motorways, and they had rumble lines in the centre as well as on the right-hand edge. And quite often the oncoming traffic was separated. Great for inexperienced right-side-of-the-road drivers!

And so we began our adventure with a lovely, though crisp, day in Spain, and finished in the French countryside. Our only disappointment was not to receive a passport stamp when crossing the border into France!

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