Somewhere, in a pond, there are four fat french frogs wipping their sweaty, swarty brows. The Desmonds have left France. But they'd better hoop fast on their fat juicy legs, we will be back for them one day, soon... It is not the full pages of guide books which are guiding our way during our trip, it is the reliable recommendations of fellow travellers. it is the word of mouth gems passed on from one campervan to the next. Thanks to them we spent a night listening to the waves on an Aire de Service on a beach in Druissant and, after a patient search, discovered the spectacular aire de service overlooking the beautiful village of Collioure and the mountains of the Pyrenees. It had a clean working toilet with no queues (and for those of you still living in houses, yes, it is very important) but best of all, a free shuttle which ferried us up and down the hill to this place so often recommended to us. Collioure was the perfect place to breath in France for a last time. It has history and legend (is the lost tresor of the Templier knights still hiding here?). It had a small maze of streets with its assortment of quaint houses and shops. It had a church and a castle towering about a harbour with picture perfect boats. To Maxim and Callum utter fascination, it also houses the training centre of the french army elite troups which you can even see training on the ground of the medieval castle. And guess what, on the second morning, we were even there just in time for the weekly market. The rain came again, but after a memorable picnic on the pier and after we took cover in a cosy french cafe. It could have gone on all day and wrecked our last night in France, but no, it gave us a bright rainbow right over our van and a golden sunset as a farwell present.
Ah, it was hard to leave France behind, no more yummy cheeses, no more walks dripping in History, no more landscapes begging to be painted one more time. Another page turned when we crossed the border, and we did not even get to taste frogs legs...
Spain however had still a lot to offer. On the way to Barcelona, we stopped at the Dali museum, he of the waxed, long moustache and of the beautiful muse and wife Gala. This museum is am hymn to love and madness. Think melting clocks under a cruel sun, lines of camels with elongated legs, portraits that can only be seing in a porthole, a magnifying glass or a reflection in a bottle. To callum, he was a grown up with the genius mind of a child, to Maxim he was a man who should have written rap. We left with a wrapped mind and spend a few hours seeing the world through his eyes. It was an excellent preparation for the works of Gaudi in Barcelone. What is it with Spain that bring forth so many crazed, joyfull and irreverent artists? I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when the town council of Barcelona entrusted Gaudi with new buildings. The bet paid off and is keeping Barcelone afloat, not a mean feat in this day and age. Tourists are coming by the busload to walk up and down the streets of the catalan capital, putting themselves at the mercy of pickpockets on a learning curve, to discover the crazed and joyful architechture of the inspired Gaudi. His gigantic church is not even anywhere near finished yet (It was not finished when I went to see it 25 years ago either). Barcelona has shrewdly evolved in the future without loosing its past. A walk along the world famous Ramblas Avenue is a bit like time travelling, it starts in the hearth of the town and runs to the modern buidings and shopping centre on the harbour, but the present can be escaped with just one side street to the Gothic quarter, with its delicate cathedral and medieval maze on cobbled paths. Yet in this oldest of area, there are hidden gems of tiny shops ozzing with modern colourful style. Bars are secretive and grovvy, clothes shops make you want to take your camera out and even hairdressing salons are little palaces of perfection. I could spend hours lost in there, discovering shops after shops and listening to hypnotising street musicians... One day, we will come back for more.
On Monday we left Barcelona and drove accross a harsh unforgiving landscape to the optimistic town of Zaragosse, where Maxim and Callum got to enjoy a bouncy castle all to themselves at a brand new ( and stylish) camping site. It took me a while to work out how this town could survive in the middle of nowhere, halfway between Barcelona and Mardrid, but of course, cheap lands plus busy freeway means massive warehousing sites, long lines of trucks and a successfull town.
After eight hours of driving in dry as a bone landscapes, Aranjuez, half an hour from Madrid was like a wet cloth on a fewerish brow. Its classical concerto inspiring palace (google it ) is the spanish answer to Versaille and sits majestically in a beautiful massive park. Our last (last!) camping, in the heart of this quiet green garden, had a horde of wild cats and a lonely tame duck to feed, a cool playground at our slidding door step for Maxim and Callum to play in and all the necessary space and sun to properly clean our tiny house on wheels.
Today, with a twinge of regret, we brought our campervan back to Madrid and finished our european adventure (keep an eyes for a list of weird facts soon to be published). The clean, vast, white and stylish hotel feels all wrong after the confine of our van. There is too much space in the room, the beds are too comfy and you can not hear the wind anymore. We even have a bath and shower all to ourselves...how strange. A new, very different country awaits, a treasure trove of new discoveries and sensations, the last one of this trip. we will make the most of it. Bangkok, here we come.