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Passing through Northern Spain to get to France

March 25th, 2024

We crossed the border back into Spain across a river in the misty rain.  The clocks went forward to Central European time.  We stopped for cheap gas at the first exit (€1.37 a litre!) and then drove north on the toll roads to the city of Santiago de Compostela where the Cathedral here in the historic centre is where the Apostle James is buried.

Well we didn’t make it – we drove around and around looking for parking within a 1.5 km radius of the cathedral with no luck; all the lots were either full or blocked off; no street parking and it was just getting too frustrating so we gave up.

We drove eastward to the small city of Lalin looking for an autobody shop to see about getting the bumper prettied up for selling it.  We found the shop but being Semana Santa and a short work week (they are closed Thursday and Friday) they could not see us till next week which is far too long to wait when we only have 90 days in the Schengen!

There was a nice indoor laundromat in this city though so we took advantage and got all the laundry, bedding and towels done.  It rained off and on the entire afternoon.

We paid three tolls today of 3.20, 4.60 and 6.85 in order to travel faster through this part of Spain.

Fran found an aire at a gas station 20 km away that offers power for €3 and since it’s quite chilly again – the temps have dropped into the mid teens C due to the rain.  We got parked, Fran went in to pay and get the power turned on for us.  After that we spent some time making beds and putting away clean clothes etc.  Since Doug was feeling quite wiped and shivering again, Fran made the beds and then he went to lie down for a bit.  He’s still very lethargic and has lost his sense of smell so he appears to have been hit harder with this version of COVID than Fran did.

It got quite cold tonight.  We are no longer on the coast and we are little higher.  We were so glad to have power so we could use our little electric heater and keep the cold at bay.  By the time we went to bed it had dropped to 7C / 44F with a threat of snow overnight!   WTH!

Today we passed through 9 tunnels.

It did drop down t 1C / 33F last night and it was cold.  By the time we left at 8:15 it WAS snowing!  Not much but it was snow.

We hit some rainy spots and then it cleared up as we approached the coast and it got warmer.  We saw the coast at times and drove up to 750 m / 2460’ and there was snow on the ground.

It stayed dry the rest of the day with large periods of sunshine and with the threat of rain always ahead of us.

There are not a lot of stops we want to make in northern Spain and with the forecast of a wet few days, we thought we’d get a big driving day out of the way after a stop in the city of Lugo which is known for its Roman walls.

The Roman walls of Lugo are the ancient Roman defensive walls stretching 2,120 metres (6,960 ft) around the Old Town. The city walls were built between 263 and 276 A.D. to defend the Roman town of Lucus Augusti (present-day Lugo) against local tribesmen and Germanic invaders. The fortifications, still largely intact, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 and are a popular tourist attraction.  The walls formed part of a complex of fortifications which also included a moat and an intervallum (the clearing between the walls and the city). The entire length of the walls is around 2,117 m  /  6946′. The width of the walls is around 4.2 m / 14’ and their height varies between 8 m / 26’ and 12 m / 39’. The walls consist of internal and external stone facing with a core of earth mixed with gravel, pebbles and worked Roman stone recycled from demolished buildings, cemented with water.

We looked and looked for parking and again, like yesterday: nada.  So instead since it was raining anyway, we just drove around the road that follows the walls.

We made the drive to Santander, just under 500km / 300 mi away.  We made a few stops for gas, eating etc. but arrived in Santander around 3:45.  Here we got more gas and then we went to an aire with power about 30 km / 20 mi on the other side of the city.

For €13 we got power, water and there are dumping facilities.  So far still no rain and it’s now in the mid teens C / low 60’sF so much more pleasant than yesterday.

Fran is feeling much better, just a bit of a cough during the day and Doug is finally on the downside we think.  He’s not so out of breath but still very congested and coughing a lot.

After dinner tonight the precipitation returned starting with small hail for about five minutes then heavy rain.  The latter did not last too long but light rain began early Wednesday morning.

Today with all the kilometres we did, we passed through a lot of tunnels:  24.

The rain stopped after we got up on Wednesday; Fran did some yoga, we showered and had tea and then went over to the service area of the aire and dumped and filled our fresh water before leaving.  Today we were heading into “Basque Country” to the city of Bilbao.

Our first stop upon reaching Bilbao was grocery shopping.  Here again we tried for over an hour to get a parking spot with 2km of the Guggenheim Museum with NO success.  Most of the parking is underground with low height restrictions.  We found a road along the river across from the museum and managed to get a few pics before giving up.  It was too bad as the sun had come out and it was warming up nicely.  There seemed to be a lot of interesting architecture in this city too.  So most of northern Spain has been a bust for us, due to lacking parking for motorhomes.

As it was still morning, we decided to hit the road and make it to Pamplona the final city we wanted to visit in Spain.  We took the toll roads paying about €7 in total and arrived by early afternoon passing through some areas of snow at 750m / 2461′; elevation!

Pamplona has a low emissions zone but Fran had found an aire just outside the area for €10 including power.  From here we walked into the centre of the city via the gate below somewhat slowly as Doug was still quite wiped and like yesterday seemed to have some brain fog.

We went into the main square, Plaza de Castillo first; it’s very large and has many colourful buildings surrounding it.  It’s much cooler and cloudy here compared to Bilbao and we are wearing layers.  (At times these days here in Northern Spain, we wish we had our down jackets which we left at Josh’s figuring, we’d not need them for this last few months in Europe – oh well, we’ll survive!)

Then we wanted to figure out the route for the “Running of the Bulls” and walked a good portion of that noting that many of the shops/business along the route have extra strength doors!

They run down this street:

turning at this corner:

Past city hall:

To the arena behind these trees:

The plaza at the town hall is quite colourful and there are photos and souvenirs related to the bulls everywhere.

some lollipops outside a shop:

We stopped at a little bakery and had a late light (we had thought) lunch and then walked back to Minou.  At least it didn’t rain (or snow)!

Today we passed through 14 tunnels.

In northern Spain we drove 1326km / 822 mi.

For lots more photos of our time in Northern Spain, click  here .

From our short time here, we have been disappointed due to the lack of being able to park and explore.  Maybe it’s easier to visit here with a car…..  You choose.

Fun Facts about Spain:

  1. Spanish is the 2nd most widely spoken language in the world.
  2. There are 47 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Spain.
  3. The concept of noontime is usually around 2 pm. Dinner then usually happens at around 9 pm.Siesta time is 2 to 5pm and some shops and establishments still close at this time (2 pm-5 pm) to have lunch and get some rest. Something else that might shock you about Spanish time: banks are only open until 2 pm on weekdays, and are fully closed on weekends. Groceries are normally closed on Sundays, too. Spanish bureaucracy can also be slow, so plan ahead! 
  4. 45% of the entrepreneurial population is female!
  5. For 800 years, Spain was Moorish Land; a little bit of Spanish history and geography… Below Spain on the Map is Africa. In 711 AD, the Moors moved up to Spain and occupied the country for 8 centuries. The heart of Moorish rule was in the South of Spain. It was called Al-Andalus, which today is known as Andalucía. That is why you will see the most Moorish influence in architecture in the South of Spain. Moreover, 4,000 Arabic words are now part of the Spanish language. All words beginning with “al” are of Arabic origin.
  6. The largest fresh produce market in Europe in Valencia.
  7. Spain Hosts the Biggest Tomato Fight Every Year – Every year, on the last Wednesday of August, the town of Buñol hosts the La Tomatina Festival. This is basically a huge tomato fight using overripe tomatoes.It’s uncertain exactly how this tradition started, but it has been going on for over 50 years.
  8. First Modern Novel; Don Quixote – published in 1605.
  9. Spain is the birthplace of Flamenco which dates back to the late 18th century.
  10. Spain has the highest number of bars in all of Europe.
  11. Spain’s national anthem has no words. It is a literally a marching tune.  It has been used since the 18th century and was declared the anthem in 1932 but not officially recognized until 1997.
  12. The Spanish Christmas Lottery is held on December 22nd and is the biggest lottery in the world by prize money. In 2022, the payout was equivalent to $2.5 billion!


March 28th, 2024

We awoke to pretty clear skies (the night had not been too cold but it was still nice to have power and turn on the heater this morning to get the chill out).  We left about 8:20 and crossed the border back into France taking non tolls after getting cheap gas (it’s much more expensive in France – at least 30 cents a litre more!).    We found fuel prices from 1.66 to 2.00 a litre!

Sidebar:  Like in Canada/US we have an app for finding cheap fuel that I don’t think we’ve mentioned before.  123Fuel covers much of Western Europe but not all but we’ve found it quite helpful. 

As Doug is not a wine drinker, we won’t be spending time in the Bordeaux region and we are castled and churched out so there are not a lot of stops to make until we get up to the northwest corner of France.

Today we managed about 400 km / 250 mi and made it past Bordeaux using toll roads after doing 40 km / 25 mi of real slow non toll roads.  We had to pay three tolls, two of which were €18.70 each – the first one we didn’t catch the price on – you just pay with a credit card to get through.  After Bordeaux, we got off and used the good country roads of France that we remembered.

We ended up at a free aire in the village of Pons around 3:30 calling it quits for the day.

We passed through 11 tunnels today.

While it rained through the night on and off, it was mostly sunny today with a few showers.  Today we stuck mostly to “D” roads avoiding the tollways but there were a couple of free sections that we took advantage of.

Doug was feeling better and more like himself today; Fran is 98% “cured”.  Today we drove into the province of Brittany and our first stop was to see the Megaliths of Carnac – 4000 years old!.

The Carnac stones are an exceptionally dense collection of megalithic sites near the south coast of Britanny in northwestern France, consisting of stone alighnments (rows), dolmens (stone tombs), tumuli (burial mounds) and single menhirs (standing stones). More than 3,000 prehistoric standing stones were hewn from local granite and erected by the pre-Celtic people of Brittany and form the largest such collection in the world. The stones were erected at some stage during the Neolithic period, probably around 3300 BC, but some may date to as early as 4500 BC

A Christian myth associated with the stones held that they were pagan soldiers in pursuit of Pope Cornelius when he turned them to stone. Brittany has its own local versions of the Arthurian cycle. Local tradition similarly claims that the reason they stand in such perfectly straight lines is that they are a Roman legion turned to stone by the wizard, Merlin.

According to a BBC documentary A History of Ancient Britain,  the alignments would have been built by hunter-gather people. That would place them in a different category from Stonehenge in England, which has been claimed to be the work of Early European Farmers. The question of which people Carnac stones are to be attributed to is still debated.

There are thousands of them in several fields stretching over 3.6 km!

We then stopped for cheap diesel and went a further 40 km / 25 mi to what is said to be one of the prettiest villages in France:  Rochefort en Terre.  There is a large three level parking lot outside town that allows RV’s in the lowest level and we were not alone – there were about four others with us.  Cost us €4 for the night – the only services were garbage bins but it was a super short walk into town and a very quiet place to spend the night.

We then walked into the village; being Good Friday the place was pretty dead so our hope of sitting enjoying a beer outside did not happen.  But we could see how this town had a lot of character, a chateaux (castle/manor) and lots of interesting looking buildings and walking streets.

We returned to Minou and enjoyed a beer there before dinner.

No tunnels today.

On Saturday we awoke to sunshine and cold! Down to about 5 C / 40 F and we were not so happy.  Last night Doug had considered trying to jog this morning but did not really feel up to it so we got up, did the dishes, made tea and left.  Today we will stay in Brittany for most of the day checking out a few “attractions” .

On our way to the medieval down of Vitre, we stopped at a grocery store to pick up a few things we needed and then saw signs for “La Roche aux Fées”.  Fran quickly looked it up and we made a detour as it was only 25 km away.

La Roche-aux-Fées (English: The Fairies’ Rock) is a Neolithic gallery grave, or dolmen, located in the commune of Essé in Brittany. Its name comes from a legend that claims that the stones were placed by fairies. The dolmen consists of more than forty stones forming a corridor four times longer than wide. Its northwest-southeast axis is on an alignment with sunrise at the winter solstice.

The tomb is one of the most famous and largest Neolithic dolmens in Brittany. It consists of a covered passage of stone blocks, with roofing stones laid across them. It is about 20 metres long, and there are around 48 blocks, of which the heaviest weighs about 45 tonnes. the interior is divided into two separate chambers. The entrance is aligned with the rising sun at the winter solstice. The original structure would have been covered with a mound of stones and earth. It is thought to date from between 3000 and 2500 BC.

This was pretty cool and we were glad we made the stop.

We continued then to Vitre and we again, very happy we stopped here.  It was one of the best preserved towns in Brittany and has a long history.

We did not go into the castle but enjoyed walking the narrow streets.

There were a lot of homes/buildings where you can see the timber built second and third floors in the Bavarian style of the architecture.

As we’ve been driving around France, we keep seeing these tall trees with what looks like large round nests in them but they are green so they are not nests.  Today we discovered that are mistletoe!  It’s an evergreen semi-parasitic plant and sometimes there are eight of the in one tree! (Did you know mistletoe and its berries is poisonous?)

The third stop today was the village of Foureres to see what is called “a fairy tale” castle.  While it’s huge and quite impressive, we’re not so sure it has the right nickname.   We took a walk around it and then returned to Minou.

Here’s  a link to all our Brittany photos.

Our final stop today was near Mont St-Michel just inside the province of Normandy; the island with a 1000 year old abbey and village on it.

Mont-Saint-Michel is a tidal island and mainland commune. It lies approximately one kilometre off France’s north-western coast, at the mouth of the Coueson River and is 7 hectares (17 acres) in area.

According to a legend, the archangel Michael appeared in 708 to the bishop of nearby Avranches and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet.[

The commune’s position—on an island just a few hundred metres (yards) from land—made it accessible at low tide to the many pilgrims to its abbey, and defensible as the incoming tide stranded, drove off, or drowned would-be assailants. The island remained unconquered during the Hundred Years’ War. A small garrison fended off a full attack by the English in 1433.   Louis XI recognised the benefits of its natural defences and turned it into a prison. The abbey was used regularly as a prison during the Ancien Regime.

In the 11th century, an Italian architect was chosen by Richard II, Duke of Normandy, to be the building contractor of the Abbey. He designed the Romanesque church of the abbey, daringly placing the transept crossing at the top of the mount. Many underground crypts and chapels had to be built to compensate for this weight. These formed the basis for the supportive upward structure that can be seen today.

Mont-Saint-Michel and its surround bay were inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1979 for its unique aesthetic and importance as a Catholic site. It is visited by more than three million people each year. Over 60 buildings within the commune are protected in France as historical monuments.

The Mont-Saint-Michel has long “belonged” to some families who shared the businesses in the town and succeeded to the village administration. Tourism is almost the sole source of income of the commune. Tourism brought about $63 million to the small island in 2014. There are about 50 shops for three million tourists. About 25 people sleep every night on the mount, monks included, except for those in hotels.

In 2023, President Macron marked 1,000 years of the abbey, and the success of the hydraulic dam project on the river with the elevated pedestrian bridge in restoring water flow in the bay, making the mount an island again.

 We found a great wild camp on iOverlander and walked almost 2km to the main road to catch the free shuttle bus service across the new raised causeway that was built about 12 years ago when they put in a hydro electric dam at the mouth of the river.

You cannot drive onto the island and the causeway is another 2km walk to the island.  It was rather surreal looking; we’d seen photos and always wanted to come here so it was a great day combined with the other things we saw.

On our walk to the shuttle bus:

The shuttle buses that can be driven from either end of the bus:

We spent about a half hour walking along the narrow street up, up and up and gave up as it was too crowded – we can’t imagine what it’s like in high season!  We found a restaurant with a patio and went in for an early happy hour drink.

We walked back to the entrance from the outer walkway and caught the shuttle back to the dam where we walked back to Minou for the night.

Tonight we watched “Saving Private Ryan” as it was the only movie we had about D Day and we are headed there tomorrow.

Today was a one tunnel day in the 250 km / xx mi we drove.

Happy Easter everyone.  The sky was pretty clear this morning but rain was in the air.  Hopefully it will hlod off several hours as forecast.

Doug seemed to go back downhill today as his congestion is back – apparently this can happen with COVID after 7 -10: symptoms can return.

Today we ventured much further into Normandy making a stop at the D Day Museum at Omaha Beach – we were not impressed and sorry we paid the entry free.  It was all about the artifacts not the battle itself so not too interesting for us.

What was cool was that it was set up inside an original Quonset hut that was used to store material during the Normandy landings.  This is a private collection of items of the Brissard family.

What was cool was that it was set up inside an original Quonset hut that was used to store material during the Normandy landings.  This is a private collection of items of the Brissard family.

We drove the further click to the actual beach and it was super windy and quite cool out especially near the water.  There are a few monuments and one pier left to see:

Ever Forward:

The monument to the US National Guard:

We then made our way along the beach a couple more clicks in Minou and saw two more monuments:

The Liberation Monument

And the “Les Braves” monument.

The landing at Normandy was mostly an American attack and we also wanted to visit Juno  Beach where 14,000 Canadians landed.  Here the Juno Beach Centre is a way better set up and it’s right off the beach.   It’s actually built in the shape of a maple leaf!

From the day it was created in 1867, The Canadian Confederation (as it known at that time), had no sovereignty in matters of foreign affairs.  By the sole power of the King of England’s declaration of war in 1914, Canada, as a British Dominion, found itself committed to fight alongside Great Britain.  The twenty years that separated the two wars  saw Canada’s status evolving.  When it declared war on Germany in 1939, it was through a decision of its own parliament. 

We spent over an hour in here which surprised us.  First you see a short 4 minute film, then you wander the museum itself and at the end there’s a another 15 minute film.  The first is about the crossing of the Channel and the landing and the second is about how these young men felt and the experiences they went through – very moving.

The displays and information was well set out and there were lots of interactive spots.

a temporary grave marker:

We left there and went for a short walk on the beach itself but it was super windy and it began to rain just as we reached the water so we called it.

We had one more stop to make and that was the Canadian Cemetery about 6km away – it was definitely raining here so we made that a short stop – just long enough to see the grave markers, take a few pictures and look at the book of  names; there was a guest book too but it was full!

Now it’s raining much more and we drove to an aire Fran found that had power and Wi-Fi – but the self check in machine wouldn’t work so the bar wouldn’t go up to let us enter; it said “device in maintenance”.  Fran found a number to call but the person spoke no English and although she could communicate in broken French, the woman basically said she couldn’t help and good bye!

So we looked for another and we saw on park4night someone had the same issue at the next one so we’ll forgo getting power/Wi-Fi tonight and Fran found a Decathlon store (a European sporting goods store) that allows overnight parking in Caen and we drove there.

No tunnels today at all.

This is a link to all our Normandy photos.

Monday was mostly a driving day with a few tries at getting a French SIM card.  What a PITA they make this!  Fran feels about 99% today and Doug seems on the mend once again.

We tried an SFR shop and were told they had no prepaid sim cards the other day.  Today at the first one we went to they say they do not sell prepaid sim cards.  WTH?  Then we tried an Orange shop and it was pricey and we were reluctant to go that route as in 2022 it wouldn’t hotspot.

Then at an SFR store where someone spoke a bit more English he said they could set us up with a plan that is cancelable – 100GB for €16 plus a €10 charge for the SIM with a free 10GB – that was a great deal.  However, it was painfully slow to get.  As we don’t have French ID’s they wanted our bank’s IBAN number – we didn’t realize it was for payment until later after it was all done.  We told them the IBAN number is just our bank’s Europe IBAN number and not our actual bank account number.  So they had to get on the phone with HQ and sort out that the payment should be by credit card not bank debit – thankfully the clerk was able to do it as it was all in French.  They told us that in 3-5 days we should receive an invoice via email to pay.   We need to cancel the plan online ten days before the next payment when we are ready to close the account.  This whole process took about 90 minutes!

Well it’s working (for now) and we still have a little bit of data on our Spanish plan until April 7th should it stop working.

We made our way to the small town of Albert to a campground after getting more diesel and spent the rest of the day (what was left of it!) online and had a super night with rain on an off.

Tuesday Doug went for his first run today as he was feeling better again but he said it was not good.

After showering etc. we hit the road once again – we are now heading for northern Luxembourg and to get there from here, we have to cross through Belgium.

We did notice how in this part of France, many of the homes and buildings are red brick.

Here’s an arch in the city of Albert and some buildings:

We travelled 1675  km / 1040 mi in France this time – and pretty darn fast!

Again, since will not be out last visit to France, fun facts will have to wait till then.



This Post Has One Comment

  1. John Hinds

    France is such a rich trove of experiences. Karen and I spent a week in Brittany and walked all around Carnak and yet you’re report and photos hardly overlap ours. We are very much looking forward to your next report, as that area is rising to the top of our planned destinations..

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