written 18th december
Esta nevando = it's snowing! not a phrase I had envisaged needing on this trip!
Back in La Rochelle, we had made contact, through Bill, with wildcamping.co.uk and a general request for recommendations had elicited a great post from John which included all sorts of suggestions, including St Jean de Pied de Port in France and Pamplona in Spain. Initially these had been just too far out of our way - would be fine in the midget but petrol consumption and hills are more of a concern in Jules so we have had to modifify our usual route finding trick of looking for the highest up, wigglyest road in the area... - however finding ourselves in Orthez had the unexpected advantage of putting both these places on the quickest route back to spain over the Roncesvalles Pass (and one which didn't retrace our steps again!) and meant a trip in the mountains which we had thought we wouldn't get. I like mountains, possibly as much if not more than cliffs and coastline, I guess coming from fenland cambridge, any geography is exciting... :)
Town : check
Walking tour : check
Citadelle : check
time to move on out.
and very exciting when suddenly we rounded a corner and it was like having driven through the wardrobe and into the silent, snowbound, perpetual winter of the White Witch. although in this Narnia, Christmas did arrive in our little van!
And I say silent, it probably would have been if we had stopped and got out but we were too wrapped up in our sleeping bags to contemplate that so it was silent except for the quiet running of the engine - I love the new throttle! - which is a way behind us under the bed anyway and our Austin mix CD - the radio having given up ages ago, and which we had chosen to remind us of warmer times - so accompanied by Carolyn Wonderland, Carrie Underwood, Dixie Chicks and Taylor Swift (we bought CDs of all the bands we saw live out there and a couple of others, like Carrie, which regularly cropped up on KGSR and KASE101) and subsisting on oranges and chocolate biscuits (we hadn't stopped for lunch or breakfast in our eventual keen-ness to get on) we pottered on through this curvy, magical winter wonderland past a frozen waterfall,
until we got to the top - Ibaneta 1057m - and were rewarded with a fabulous view back down the valley.
It has been an expensive, €50 petrol cost, trip to find the €6 of lpg which will keep us in tea and hot food for a month but that drive more than made up for it.
The way back down was less windy and took in a couple of much lower passes and some deserted looking, shuttered up towns, although at one scary moment we were flagged down by machine gun toting police men who peered at us in our sleeping bags and in the back and asked where we were going before waving us on. I don't know what they were looking for but thankfully we weren't it!
We were just considering a cheap hotel, which felt a bit like giving in, when we pulled into a space opposite a bar in the industrial suburb of Arre. a combination of phrase book, pointing at a picture of a VW camper in a magazine and at our van and "policia"-shrug elicited the response that stopping in the street would be no problem and that God only knew whether it would still be snowy manana - although he did spend an inordinate amount of time telling us that it was cold and there was a hotel only 5mins and 500m down the road... - so we had a wine and a whiskey and trekked back across the road, narrowly being missed by a snow plow truck which was barrelling along the road at a completely unnecessary speed! -
Pamplona is obviously famous for the San Fermines festival over seven days in July and during which there are seven bull runs from the top of the town through to the bull ring which start at 8:30 am and last approximately 3 mins each but oustide of that week of frenetic activity, it is quite nice for a wander and has a good map and walking tour from the tourist office and there was a christmas market in the bull ring - which was warm if nothing else :) - and is all quite pretty but very cold - although Will tells me that it is only after your feet go numb and then get unnaturally warm that you are in danger of them falling off....
Like san Sebastian, Pamplona is also a contender for European Capital of Culture 2016 - was it a quiet year for applicants? - will be interesting to see who wins (if we even remember by then...)
We consulted our new Aires de Service book only to find that four of the five aires listed under Burgos were actually several 10s of kilometres away and set of to find the only one which was actually anywhere near. The directions weren't great, no address, just a main road, a junction number and a suburb name and after much driving around on the snowy roads we gave up and headed back into town to find a supermarket, arriving just moments after it shut. So we headed into the nearest open bar instead to defrost. The TV news was on so we spent a happy hour guessing at the news. Started by something somehere sunny (costas?) and a birtish woman saying she might lose everything (but not sure what). Earthquakes in Southern Portugal - good job we're not there in the warm yet then. Then a report of severe cold and snowy weather across spain and other parts of Europe which included reporters shivering in fur coats in Leon, Paris and, yes you guessed it, Burgos - but at least it is unusually cold enough to be news! To add insult to injury however, the next report seemed to be about a heatwave in what looked like the south of spain and I'm sure it said 40 degrees. Having spun out two small glasses of wine as long as we could, this seemed like the point to leave so we headed out into the snow again. Not really fancying a night at the side of quite such a busy street, we tried the book directions again and this time found the tiny sign we missed but it was a campsite which was most definately shut for the season so we pulled in off the road behind a lorry outside the bridgestone tyre factory and stopped, having passed signs cherefully telling us it was now -9... Well to be fair, the LP does describe Burgos as "somewhat chilly"....
Cooking special fried rice with pork and tinned sweetcorn - the only veg we had left - warmed the van somewhat and we decided that we'd been warm enough the previous night so we would be ok. Turns out -9 is significantly colder than -2 but we piled all our discarded coats and jumpers on top of the two sleeping bags, duvet and blanket and it was all ok. Again, we could have found a hotel but if you give up when things get a bit difficult or if you have loads of money and therefore everything is easy, it's all not quite so exciting and think how much we will now appreciate merely -2, if we ever find somewhere that warm again... and anyway, it wouldn't have seemed right, leaving poor Jules out all alone in the cold.
This morning we have woken up, toasty warm in our cocoon, to find ice on the inside as well as the outside of the windscreen and the olive oil and bottled water largely frozen -
but nothing a nice cup of tea can't sort out! After some backwards and forwards-ing Will managed to get Jules out of our snowbound layby
- and we are now on our way into town. The signs still say -5, I am wearing a short sleveed t-shirt, a long sleeved t-shirt, a woolly jumper, a hooded top with the hood up, a fleece, a woolly hat, three gloves (2 on one hand), thin socks, thick socks (can't fit anymore socks in my trainers without making my feet numb through cut off circulation, did try!) and my tracksuit bottoms under my jeans - it is a good look...
Bill, this cathedral better be worth it.... ;)