Not sure how disciplined I will be with this and the thought of doing something daily is a stretch too far so I will capture a few days in one blog. This may make it more interesting for anyone who can't sleep and late night TV is just too boring.
Set off on 20 April from Ashford on the Eurostar at 07:30 - Short hop to Calais-Frethun to pick up the first hire car. Unfortunately as soon as I had taken my seat for this very short journey my Mr Grumpy mood was awoken by the droning tone of an American 20-something who took it upon herself to torture me with "like-itis".
For those who are not aware of this condition - and you must have been living in a cave to have avoided it - I believe the yanks started it and it has spread to all English-speaking countries. It involves liberal (uncontrolled) use of the word "like" in places where a simile is just not appropriate. It drives me mad.
The example from my Eurostar trip will illustrate it for those still not aware. What this droning product of the American University system wanted to say was:
"I went to this function in DC and Wow it was fantastic"
What she actually said was " I like went to this like function in like DC and like Wow it was like fantastic"
I hasten to add that every single sentence she uttered in the thirty two minutes of torture that my ears had to suffer was peppered with "like". This was made worse my the monotone voice only lightened by the inevitable inflection at the end of every sentence - this is of course a separate condition exported by the Americans and eagerly taken on by the British (though the Aussies seem to have now adopted it as the only way to speak).
Anyway the train arrived in Calais on time and I can only apologise to the Eurostar staff who had to extract a young American woman who had been forcefully stuffed head first down one of their toilets.
Picked up car (Alpha Romeo something with a girls name) and set off for Tours on the Loire (320 miles, about 5.5 hours). Unremarkable journey though the roads were a pleasure to drive on - so quiet.
Checked into Hotel (Ronsard) and did an initial recce around the City. Old town very attractive with lots of bars and restaurants all buzzing (large student population in Tours). Was always only a stopover en route to Northern Spain so not much time to explore properly but it had a good "feel" - enough to justify a return trip some time in the future. Ate a very nice Lebanese dinner but drank "wine" which was clearly meant to be thrown down the drain (actually I think that's where it came from).
Hotel was comfortable though I would have slept on a washing line after the long drive.
Set off early next day (21 April) to get to Sarlat (240 miles, about 5 hours). Temperature starting to move in the right direction and by the time we reached Sarlat it was a pleasant 24 degrees and very sunny.
Checked into Hotel (Couleuvrine) and set out to explore this somewhat manicured Dorgogne town. It's very pretty and a real pleasure to stroll around but I could only stay one night in such a place. The French do these sort of places very well and I can imagine coach loads of tourists arriving here in July and August all dutifully buying the "specialities of the region". It's Perigord so it's duck 20 ways including every single piece if the animal.
Had a great dinner alfresco, opposite the cathedral - "Le Bistrot" - great value, great food and excellent wine.
Raised queries with the hotel wrt the description in my booking which was supposed to include:
"Fan, dressing room, king size bed, carpet" - all were missing so I politely asked at reception and was told "it's Booking.com who are to blame". Contacted booking.com who told me they only print what the hotel provides them with.
Too feckin tired to make a meal of it (got a discount of 5 Euros) but mental note made to check out future bookings with more rigour.
22 April last leg of car journey to Northern Spain - to St Jean de Luz. Travelled through some beautiful countryside - rolling hills - and then the rather monotonous pine forests of Landes. Arrived in St Jean early afternoon. Tried to drop car off at Avis office but as this is France they were on their customary 3 hour lunch. So went for a walk along the sea front. What a delightful place. The bay is calm and the sea front buildings are mostly fin de siècle with only a smattering of more modern constructions. The old town is also very attractive with small cobbled streets, lots of cafes, bars bistros. However, it's not twee in anyway. It successfully combines tourism with a working port - definitely one to come back to.
One unusual feature of St Jean - twice during the afternoon a very strong wind just appeared as if from nowhere blowing tables (and some poor budding Picassos art work) all over the place. Then as quickly as it arrived, it disappeared
Had a great dinner in a restaurant (La Tourasse) recommended by the hotel (Relais St Jacques).
Another great nights sleep in a very comfortable hotel.
23 April train into Spain. Complicated journey for what was a very short hop. Not possible to buy a ticket through from St Jean to San Sebastián so had to buy a ticket to Hendaye (which is still in France) which took 20 minutes, go out of the station to another ticket office to buy a ticket for San Sebastián and then get on a different train (40 minutes to San Sebastián. Not a hardship just surprised that it's not more joined-up in the apparently borderless EU.
The first part of the journey from Hendaye is all goods trains and heavy (defunct) industry but once you get beyond Irun, the landscape changes dramatically. It's all green hills and coastline - a gentle introduction to the more dramatic and rugged scenery which comes later through Cantabria and Asturias.
Arrived San Sebastián around lunchtime and checked into hotel (more of which later) which is a stones throw from the beach. Blue sky, sunshine and the best place so far. The city, old town, it's beaches, the surrounding scenery make this a must see place - it's gorgeous. Had lunch in the old town before walking along the seafront for a couple of miles and then took funicular up Mt Igueldo. Not actually a mountain but a fantastic place to see over the whole city. Even the dilapidated funfair at the top has a certain charm about it though I would not trust any of the rides.
Walked back over same route and according to the app on my phone have now walked 6.5 miles today - about time I got some exercise.
In the earlier rush to get out of the hotel and experience this city, clearly missed the fact that it was in fact a punishment cell rather than a hotel room. It had no windows, was about 6 foot square and the air con was not working but the hotel management who obviously had previous roles in Francos regime, had decided that turning the heating up to 30 degrees was just about the right way to ensure compliance.
Got back out into the rather more comfortable 22 degrees as soon as possible and made for the old town to experience the delightful bars serving pinctxos (Basque version of Tapas). The atmosphere around the narrow little streets was a low hum at about 7 pm but built into an exciting buzz as the evening progressed - a city with real soul.
Great experience just pointing to various small dishes on the bar ( not having a clue what most of them were) and being pleasantly surprised by every morsel - all washed down with wonderful glasses of Rioja. A bonus was that it's all so cheap - 2-3 euros for each dish.
The alcohol ensured that the punishment cells worst features were neutralised and I sleep like a log. BTW hotel is Zaragoza Plaza - to be avoided
24 April. Regret not booking to stay longer in San Sebastián but it's too late to change booking for tonight (Santander) so picked up next hire car - was supposed to be a VW Touran or equivalent. I am not sure in which world a Fiat 500L is the equivalent of any VW but that's what is on offer - it will be interesting to see how this thing copes with the Picos de Europa!
Set Satnav for Santander - about a 2 hour drive. Must mention new Satnav which I purchased before leaving the UK. It's a Garmin with all the trimmings but the best feature are the voice options. One particular favourite is the Yeti. If you have ever been near Chris Milton in the morning and experienced his unique cough, splutter and grunt then you would find the noises which come from the Garmin Yeti quite familiar. It does not provide any guidance at but just issues grunts and groans periodically - I love it.
Got to Santander around 1 pm and checked into hotel (Hotel Bahia) which is luxury compared to the San Sebastián torture chamber. The same can't be said of Santander itself. I know it's a working port so didn't expect the beauty of San Sebastián but having walked around the most interesting parts in the afternoon it doesn't seem to have any discernible centre or indeed soul. Decide to return to hotel to start writing this blog as the weather is poor - cloudy, 18 degrees.
Took Rough Guide advice and went to the Barrio for dinner. This is a rundown part of the city (the old port) which is slowly being revitalised and has a choice of basic fish restaurants. Ate in Rough Guide recommended La Gaviota and it was perfect. Sardines grilled on a bbq and then a whole turbot grilled on the plancha - no fancy trimmings just great fish all washed down with what is becoming my favourite Spanish white wine (Albariño). In my opinion this is the way fish should be cooked and served - it was fantastic.
I've just realised that putting five days into one blog is perhaps not a good idea (apart from anything else I have bored myself) so I will try to do smaller chunks.
If you read this then let me know what you think - feedback is important to me unless I disagrees in which case you can f**k off