London to Lisbon, Long Way Down

Road trip to Lisbon: the long way down

We decided to drive all the way from London to Lisbon as we left our family home at the end of July. Not because we had too much to take on the plane (a large trailer took all our stuff). Not because we wanted to take our car (in fact we will need to bring it back to London at some point). Just because, really. A road trip was needed.

I wanted to leave in a different way from before, and really transition from our London life to a new life in Lisbon. Taking a plane just seemed too mundane, even in Covid19 times. We have gone back and forward between the two countries so many times and, this time, we wanted it to be different. 2800 km and 28 hours driving – we definitely made it different.

Leaving London

As I locked the house and gave back our keys, it all felt easier than I expected. It was worse to leave with the children as Little Girl C held the door knob and left her foot inside to keep the door from closing. As she grieved her loss on the whole way to the airport and for the first time asked us not to leave, I grieved too. I held her hand and shed my tears. That is when I left.

So the day we shut the door for the last time, it felt more logistics and less emotions. The exhaustion of the move was very present but, more importantly, the excitement about the road trip ahead started to build up. I was finally ready to leave.

Time to leave the Island (114 Km)

After some debate train vs ferry, we landed on taking the Eurotunnel,. Arriving well in advance of our planned time, we encountered an almost deserted terminal and empty car lanes everywhere. As we waited to board, like 2 small kids we realized we were driving into a train. Well of course we should know that. but it is not until you see it that you realize how cool it is. Our trip was under way and we completed our first milestone – the crossing of the Channel.

The first stop: Le Havre (270 km)

We chose our first stop based on how late we thought we could drive. Originally, we planned to have dinner in Calais, but as we left London earlier than planned, we just got going and made our first 2h40m stretch easily.  We got to the small village of Le Havre and the hotel was filled with decor details and the bed asking me to stay there. But we gathered the strength to walk out to what we thought was a late dinner (9.40 pm). We found somewhere close and we were clearly not the last ones to arrive. It would all have been awkwardly normal, if it was not for the masks. On our way back, we were surprised to find the impressive building of the Eglise of St Joseph outside our room window. Random surprise. The road trip was promising already.

The wonder of Mont Saint Michel (222km)

On Day 2 of our trip, Hubby B insisted we visit the remote Mont Saint Michel. He claimed it ranked high up there in the list of things to see in France (close to the Eiffel Tower). I was suspicious. But I had to agree it was a very worthy detour. A former abbey, then place of defence, then abbey. then prison, the Mont is one of those things that makes you admire old engineering. Built on top of a rock often separated from mainland by the high tide, its labyrinth of rooms and halls are a must to visit. 

Funny fact: my Apple watch complained of lack of exercise today, but only because it lost its battery before the climb started. It is not a smooth climb, especially with a face mask and remains of a cold. But worth every step up! And it added a worthy pause to a long journey. After all, we were not just heading somewhere, we were committed to visit new places and enjoy some time together.

Off to Bordeaux FamiLux (544 Km)

As we left Mont St Michel, I finally got to drive on the right side of the road with a right hand steering wheel. It was not as bad as I thought it would be. However, Hubby B got a taste of his own medicine sitting on the passenger seat by the highway’s rail, feeling it too close for his liking. The drive had a few missteps as we got Friday afternoon traffic for the last Friday of July. Expected, but not part of the plan!

While we were not impressed as we entered Bordeaux through the wrong neighbourhood, it all vanished when we reached Hotel Yndo. As we got there, I told Hubby B I had not resisted and had booked us a Chateaux, And from the moment we got inside, we did not think twice about this small luxury. Owner Agnes hosted us for a lovely dinner in the patio, overlooking the private courtyard. All around us the interior design was notable; that was indeed the owner’s prior job and it showed everywhere – even in the Dyson hairdryer! And finally, the staff loved the place, which adds to the feeling of being at home, in luxury.

Time to cross another Border (250km)

I must say it was tough to leave Hotel Yndo. The place was so comfy, it made us just want to linger. Eventually, we got on our way to Biarritz, where we were planning a small pit stop. As we enjoyed a stretch and walks by the sea, we decided lunch was due, even if it was a not-so-nice touristy place by the beach. By then, we knew that our gourmet experience was going to come that evening and no longer in San Sebastian for lunch as originally planned.

It turned out a good thing. The only way we could visit San Sebastian was by driving, as pouring rain stopped us from getting out of the car and multiple police points blocked access to the centre to make space for La Vuelta. Talk about bad timing. So, despite the beautiful bay, we ended up leaving the city a bit incomplete.

The Experience (434km)

As we had our dinner in Bordeaux, one of our friends sent us a link to a place he said we HAD to visit in Spain.. As I prepared to book the hotel for our last night (yes, all booked last minute), I did not think it would work. However, a closer look made us realize we could drive 7.5 hours rather than almost 10 the next day, and stop at the little village where Bodega El Capricho is located. O-M-G (as Baby S would say), are we glad we did!

It was a first for us to change course so much for a dinner. In the middle of such scripted lives, it is liberating to suddenly decide to drive more than 800km and change your next day destination just because we saw the Netflix series that searched for the ‘best steak In the world’. And despite all the steaks we have had on our life, this was indeed the best we have experienced.

Our Last Stop (292 km)

After a long night of eating, we stayed in a place that had opened 8 days before called Casa Gabriela. Owners (husband and wife) operated, in fact it was an extension of their also famous restaurant where maybe we will have to come back to one day. After our pan con tomate breakfast, we got on our way to Santiago de Compostela, our last stop.

When I first told Hubby B I wanted to go through Santiago, he thought I lost my mind and was maybe stretching it on this road trip story. We were still in London, surrounded by boxes, and still in strict mode. Before we even thought we would drive for the sake of a restaurant, or a steak! But we soon realized it was not more than a 2 hours addition to a full track of 29 hours,. So we had another ‘why not” moment. We wanted to have done the Camino this year, but with all the changes that happened, it was a bit difficult. So we decided to do our own Camino by car this time round, knowing we will come back one day walking.

As we got there, it was worth the wait to visit the Catedral. In fact, I imagine the queues being much longer in non-Covid times). What truly impressed me was the altar. Like something I have never seen. In all shapes and colours of gold. And an extra mezzanine to top it all up. The Vatican impressed by the overall church, the Catedral de Santiago for its altar. I would have likely felt differently had I walked there, but that is something I will have to experience in another time.

We are going home (550 km)

We could not leave Spain without a Tapas lunch, so we topped our journey with the Huevos Rotos and Gambas al Ajillo and got ready to cross our last border. After Santiago, our goal was clear. we were heading home. With a few hundred kilometres to go, we picked an audio book and headed back, celebrating as we crossed our final border.

The long way down was well worth the effort . Even though Hubby B did most of the driving, we both came out happy, putting a special ending to the prior phase of our lives, The road was our goodbye, our transition, and our re-entry home,

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