This Christmas we drove to Portugal – a return distance of about 3,000 miles. Much of the drive was done in the dark; we travelled overnight and the daylight hours are short at this time of year. Bristol to the Channel Tunnel is pretty yawnworthy, especially if you spend as much time on the M4/M25 as I do. Calais to Bordeaux via Nantes is 8 hours flat, flat, flat. You can spice things up by going via Paris, but we’ve both had enough of the Périphérique for one lifetime. The sat nav tried to play a trick on me at about 2am, when it said I should go cross country in the rural heartlands of France, since it was the most direct route. I was tempted to ignore it, but everyone else in the car was asleep and I fancied a challenge. In the end, I had a great couple of hours going through some tiny towns. After Bordeaux you get busy, because the French are doing roadworks and there about a billion Péages as well. Brake, window down, pay, go, bend, wind, overtake, roadworks, brake, ad infinitum. Just when you think you can’t take another minute of France, finally, you reach Spain!
San Sebastián and the Basque Country (Euskal Herria) are gorgeous. Alpine-esque architecture, weird shaped mountains, glimpses of the Atlantic, tunnels and high peaks. The signs are fascinating, because they have both the Spanish and the Basque names. Basque is an unusual language, an isolated example, thought to be one of the few surviving pre-Indo-European languages in Europe. While you’re busy enjoying the weird place names, you wind through tunnel after tunnel, then you squeeze past a final jagged set of peaks, and you are out onto the high plains of North West Spain. Burgos, then León, until eventually you tuck down into the Alto Minho, at the top of Portugal, through boulder strewn mountains. This bit is very up/down/wind/bend. Eventually about 19 hours after we set off, we reached our destination.
If the roads were all flat and straight, or all mountainous and windy, this trip would be unbearable to do. Hour after hour of the same thing has a habit of making people nod off, which is dangerous in a car. Without the chance to have a chat, or listen to some music, or chew some sweets, or enjoy the scenery, the journey would be too repetitive for words. We’ve got to do the slog through France bit, it’s part of the ‘Getting to Portugal’ deal. And when you have a goal in mind, you can put up with a lot of the same. But it’s a bit like what happens in the classroom, and on social media as well. Everything in moderation.