Cádiz – Prague 2008
Yet again we managed to pull off the Atlantis – Golden City summer adventure, in spite of the world economical crisis, sky rocketing fuel prices and the threat of teenager rebellions. It could be considered a special year because Babicka turns 100, but I am just as excited about her turning 101, 102 . . . Fuel prices and rampant inflation did cause a change in our plans, but it turned out to be surprisingly positive. Europe has an extensive network of free RV areas. Weeks of internet surfing paid off as we were able to use first class facilities for free or next to nothing. We also saw many new regions in our effort to avoid toll roads. The first stop on our list was Palencia. Even with its promise of a top notch free RV area, and nearby city center, it surpassed expectations. The RV area was clean, quiet, safe and very well maintained.
The park surrounding it was perfect too – well designed children's playgrounds, ponds with ducks, a restaurant with a terrace overhanging the water and popular jogging paths. All this on an island in the river, bordered by a well used bike path and connected to the old town by pretty pedestrian bridges. The catherdral in the photos on this page is only a short walk from the RV area. It's not all perfect though . . .
Year after year, we start late. So before we could enjoy the beauties of Palencia, we had to move four kids and three weeks worth of supplies about 800 km. In our typical fashion we started about the time when many families would have finished. It was just after 11 pm when we set off. And after all that preparation most people would probably want to cover some distance. We on the other hand traveled about 15 minutes to Jerez, and stopped at the first McDonald's on our way.
This may all sound crazy, but there is a method to the madness. In southern Spain in the summer, nighttime is the best time to move around, or eat, because it's too hot during daylight hours. McDonald's also has its logic. In many places all over Europe, you can usually get a basic burger for only 1 â‚Ź. Sometimes they even offer cheeseburgers for the same price. That's far cheaper than almost any restaurant. We are a typical Andalucian family so it took us an hour to eat. We were on the road again at 00:15 (just after midnight). My driving batteries burned out a few hundred kilometers later, and I pulled over in very quiet town (Fuente de Cantos) amidst vast rolling farmland.
So it wasn't until late afternoon on the second day that we actually reached our first planned* destination. The word planned has a star because our plans tend to be more like hopes. We drove across most of Spain stopping only for lunch and tea (cookies and milk, whatever you want to call it), which we had in the RV. It was worth it though. Here are some photo of the RV area in Palencia:
The next morning was spent doing laundry for six people in the RV. We got a late start. We had lunch in a highway rest area. It wasn't expecially scenic, but it was in a relatively high mountain pass (about 900 meters), so it was cool. It was also big and almost empty. A great opportunity for father and son to pull out a bicycle, inline skates and a scooter, and get some exercise. Just like Teresa predicted (she says it always happens), it was raining as we approached the French border. That canceled our plans of seeing some of the famous beaches in the French Basque country. We drove on into the night, but we didn't get very far. To avoid toll roads in the Basque region you have to hit a lot of traffic lights, traffic circles and steep hills. Plus, with the rain we got lost. Late at night we reached St. Vincent, a town that is supposed to have an RV area. But after a long and fruitless search we parked at the McDonald's. A few minutes later another RV from Spain drove in. They too had been searching for the fabled RV area and had given up. It only by a chance conversion with two French teenagers who were killing time in the parking lot, that I discovered the famous RV area. It was extremely small, poorly signposted and only about 30 meters from where were standing (this after having driven across town three times). The next morning the rain stopped, and we decided to find a nicer place to have breakfast. Just some 15 km down the road we found one of the many extremely well equiped French highway rest areas. Here we were able to engage in one of the more challenging activities on the road in Europe: finding a place to throw out our garbage from six people.
Here you can see Nadya playing that popular RV game, wake your sister up by tickling her toes.
Roman is happy because he got to sleep in one of the two single beds. Page 4
Lunchtime brought us to another free RV area in a tiny roadside village. It was a pretty little place with a big park, pond, picnic tables, etc. But the best part was our neighbor, a retired French schoolteacher. She had sold her house, and bought a tiny camper van. We ended up inviting her over for cake and coffee. She gave us a French newspaper which she helped us translate, as well as some first class goat's cheese, made by a woman that she knew.
That night we discovered that in France most gas stations only have automated pumps at night, which seem to only accept French credit cards. So as we were about to run out of gas, we reached one of the many free RV areas on my long list. This was another picture perfect rural hamlet surrounded by hills and forests. It is called Bessines.
The next morning after filling up the tank, we drove on to a nice new highway rest area. Not only was the RV area completely free of charge, the restaurant building had a huge
artificial waterfall flowing out of one side, and the playground was so well equiped that it gave the kids a good chance to get some exercise. Page 5
We did a lot of driving and then stopped at another wonderful free RV area. This one was on a rails-totrails bike path. It had a very nice basketball court which the kids put to good use.
The RV area we where had planned to spend the night was crowded and disappointing. So we parked next to a river in a parking area that Yvonne spotted. Is was very pretty, quiet and near an inexpensive Lebanese restaurant.