From our mountain village of Palairac, high in the Corbierres, which had been our home for the last week, we wound our way down, past Perpignan towards the coast.
Our last port of call in France was the beautiful seaside town of Colioure, very close to the Spanish border.
We had lunch on the beach there, before following the steep rugged coastal road over the bottom end of the Pyrenees and into Spain.
Immediately the countryside changed, instead of every suitable bit of land being in grapes, the Spanish side of the border was much less intensively farmed and when passing through the small towns you were left in no doubt that you were entering a much poorer country.
Spain has been hit harder by the recession than most in Europe, Unemployment is well over 20%, and in the 18-25 year olds it is approaching 40%.
This was borne out as we drove towards Figueres, as regularly on the side of the road, we saw Skimpily dressed girls sitting on deck chairs in lay-bys, obviously looking for business!!
The other sight that became all to common, was huge abandoned apartment blocks and Hotels half finished, obviously victims of the downturn, which has seen property prices drop by up to 50% in some areas.
Figueres doesn’t have a lot going for it, except that it is the birth place of Salvador Dali, and home to his amazing self styled museum and art gallery.
From the moment you approach the weird facade of the building, you knew you are in for a treat.
The variety and the sheer audacity of the collection of his life times works displayed here is simply stunning. We spent an enthralling three hours here before heading off to our first stop in Spain, the beautiful coastal city of Barcelona.
We weren’t sure what to expect in Barcelona, but it quickly became one of our favourite cities of our trip.
Despite it being well into October, the weather was beautiful, with temps pushing towards 30 in the middle of the day, and lovely warm evenings where you could happily dine Alfresco at any of the huge number of local restaurants.
The city was packed with tourists, with long queues for everything, we spent a great day exploring the city, taking in the huge number of Gaudi designed buildings, crowned by probably the weirdest building in the world, the Sagrada Familia. Work on this huge church began over a hundred years ago, and it has been an ongoing project ever since, as evidenced by the six huge construction cranes surrounding it now.
Gaudi’s architecture is everywhere and it is almost as if Barcelona is his own huge art gallery displaying his lifetimes works.
The city had a real buzz to it, and we really enjoyed wandering the streets, taking in the vast number of street performers plying their trade, before climbing the hill, and riding the spectacular cable car back across the stunning harbour.
The following day we were off in trusty Vladimir, driving two hours south to a Eurocamp on the coast near Cambrils. We had four days here swimming, and relaxing, before an early start saw us driving back north to Girona, to catch our cheap Ryan Air flight to Ibiza.
We hadn’t flown Ryanair before, so it was quite interesting to see how this very successful budget airline works. Our fares were only 5 pounds each way, but by the time you pay taxes and 30 pounds for one 15kg suitcase, the cost mounted, but was still a great bargain.
They try to dissuade you from taking checked in luggage, and allow you 10kg each of hand luggage, thus the passengers effectively load the plane, cutting down on their costs. In fact they are bringing in fares for a standing area only on short flights next year.
Ryanair got us safely to Ibiza on time, although it was quite disconcerting when the plane erupted into spontaneous applause on landing!
We had hired a rental car for our time on the island, a Chevrolet! But not quite the Chevy I had imagined, but we christened our little green aphid, Jimmy, and off we went in search of our apartment.
We wound our way over bush clad hills , away from the ugly main town of Eivissa, and then down into the beautiful little beach of Cala Vadella.
We spent five days here, swimming, kayaking, and exploring the lovely island in Jimmy, before flying back to Girona and reuniting with Vladimir, and heading back on the long drive to London.
We all really enjoyed our little taste of Spain, and would have loved to stay longer and travel along to Portugal and back that way, but time was against us, maybe next time.
The Spanish are a friendly, relaxed people, and are much happier speaking English than the French.
We enjoyed dining out, rather than cooking our own, and particularly liked the local seafood and Paella dishes. For now it’s back north to colder climates, and its only 12 days till we fly out for the USA!