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Monday, April 23, 2012

St. Emilion, France, & Hondarribia, Spain – Apr. 20-21, 2012

I was apprehensive our first day driving with Pepper’s new transmission.  Call it gun-shy I guess, but every little bump in the road made my heart skip a beat and my stomach lurch.  But hit the road we did!  We got a late start out of Tours, France and began heading south toward San Sebastian, Spain around noon.  Knowing we were not likely going all the way to Spain in one day, we opted to stop in one of our 2009 Reconnaissance Mission’s Must Return areas, the Bordeaux wine region.

Now, some of you might not know about our Reconnaissance Mission:  In the Fall of 2009 we flew over (without the dogs and caravan) to Barcelona, rented a car and drove up into France, measuring roads and visiting campgrounds along the way.  Ha!  We thought this would prepare us for the big adventure.  I might have to start an entirely new blog just for the Things We Thought We Knew or better yet, Things We Didn’t Think to Ask.

Anyway, back to our drive:  During my driving shift, SP hunted us up a Municipal Camping site along the river Dordogne, Camping la Plage, so we set Snoopy to its coordinates.  First, a few words about our new GPS device, whose real name is The Snooper:  It has the ability to store the width and length of your rig and [is supposed to] direct you on roads suitable to your size.  Apparently we define suitable a little more generously than Snoopy as he often directs us onto very small, winding roads with barely enough room to squeeze one car let alone two.  (At times like these, we refer to him as Snoop Dog.) 

But follow him we did and around 4:00 we left the motorway and headed into the rolling, grapevine covered hills.  Snoopy led us into the charming town of Saint Seurin de Prats and then along the Dordogne River to the completely empty, and disappointingly closed, campground.  (Snoopy also has the ability to provide information on campgrounds nearby, including opening dates, but you have to actually read the information he provides.  Ahem, I was the driver not the navigator, that’s all I’m saying.)

We let the dogs run around the fields for a while then jumped back in and followed Snoopy back across the Dordogne (twice) up and down rolling hills, on tiny roads, in the rain.  The few times I managed to peel my eyes from the road (and I was just the navigator by now!) the scenery took my breath away.  Even in the pounding rain, the loveliness of the Dordogne River Valley doesn't miss an opportunity to enthral.   

After another hour on the winding roads and unable to locate campground #2, we decided to head to St. Emilion, a stone city situated on top of a hill.  Having been here during The Reconnassaince, we knew there was a bus parking area and if we had to we could stop for the night there.  However, Snoopy located an open campground (Domain de la Barbanne) about 3 kilometers from the town so we pulled in--a good two hours after leaving the motorway.  For those of you who know this area, I am sure you are laughing right now!  (St. Emilion is usually attained via a quick, non-pulse rising, 15 minute drive off a major motorway.) Aventura baby.

We thought we might spend two nights in St. Emilion after such a late, exhausting arrival but found ourselves the following morning standing in the rain, stocked with wine, cheese and fresh pictures of the town all before noon.  Time to continue our mission south and find some sunshine.

Again, I was still a little nervous riding as a passenger on Day 2 but remembering that I had felt better when driving on Day 1, we swapped and I was able to relax.  That is until SP spoke the words every trepedatious traveler wants to hear, “How adventurous do you feel?”

Seems that SP and Snoopy had conspired to locate us a spot via “Camper Stop”, a program on the device that lists areas (often parking lots) where you can camp for little or nothing overnight.  These stops usually don’t have water, bathrooms or electricity so you have to be completely self-contained.  But that’s why we bought Salt and added solar panels; the ability to stop and be completely self-sufficient at least for a few days.

So Snoopy directed us to a beach-front location in Hondarribia, just north of San Sebastian, Spain.  Driving in, we noticed ten or so RVs all parked at the rear of the lot and all close together.  Not enjoying crowds, we opted to be on the far side of the lot, parking so our door opened a few feet from the beach.  We were in heaven!  However it was only 3:30--a little early to stop driving for the day; we dragged our feet around until it was 4:00 then we ruled Carpe Pitchem and parked for the night. 

The sun came out which was nice not only for us and The Noses (as they raced around on the sand), but also for the many by-standers staring at Salt.  She is quite a hit over here—indeed, we haven’t seen another Airstream since leaving Gold RV in the UK.

This parking lot happened to have a faucet so we loaded another five gallons into our fresh tank and settled in for the night.  SP made Morrocan Poached Eggs for dinner—I just love it when he cooks, we always get something unusual and delicious. 

If the weather had been better we surely would have stayed another day, however the next morning dawned with clouds and more rain so we set off again.   Ever moving southward . . .