Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Road Trip

When my dad came to visit a year ago, we took the train up to Normandy and rented a car for easy access to all the WW2 spots. Most of the sites we were interested in were pretty close together, so I don't think we put more than 320 kilometers on the car in that trip.

The Spanish border is about 500 kilometers from Lyon, and Barcelona is about 100 km past that. You can drive there in about 6 hours, or take a train in about 6 hours too (there is not yet a high-speed line all the way). Flying technically only takes about 1.5 hours, but with trips to and from the airport, getting thru security, boarding times, etc. it adds up to about 4 to 4.5 hours too. It is just far enough to make driving the best option, especially if you have more than one person to share the costs and if you plan on driving around a bit when you get there.

My friend, used-to-be neighbor, and current caretaker of my dog Tosh was recently in the Barcelona area for work, so George and I decided to grab a rental car for the weekend and put in our first hours on the French highway system.

Not the exact car I had--mine was black

We signed up for the cheapest smallest car they had, but they ended up giving us a brand new Ford Fiesta 4-door. By French standards, this is a medium sized sedan, and by US standards it is slightly bigger than a Smart car. The car was comfortable though, easy to get everyone in and out of, and had cruise control and HD radio to make the road trip more comfortable. As gas is about 6 dollars per gallon in France, I was also quite happy that it got around 50 miles per gallon.

Highways in France are extremely well kept (by the extremely high tolls), so the ride over was easy. We got a little turned around when we stopped for dinner in Perpignan but we ended up making it to my friend's hotel room in Blanes in about 6.5 hours.

View from the hotel room in Blanes

Blanes is a small vacation city about a half hour from Barcelona. Situated right on the beach, it is very popular with the northerners who come down to escape the frigid weather of their home countries. When we arrived it was pretty nice--sunny and about 65 degrees, and maybe even a little warmer when we went over to Barcelona.

The entrance to Park Güell

I've been to Barcelona before, and it is a great city. Tons of cool things to look at, good climate, nice beaches, and great food. We spent a day in the city eating, doing a little sight seeing, and shopping for things that we cannot find in Lyon (like refried beans) before heading back to the hotel to sleep off the food coma.

We spent Sunday exploring the gardens and beach around the hotel in Blanes. The weather was getting noticeably worse.

As we headed back to Lyon the sky was clouding, the wind was blowing, and the temperature was dropping. It was still in the low 50s--not really cold--so I didn't think much about it. As we got about 100 km into France I started noticing some white stuff blowing around the car, and I could not figure out what it was. Pollen? Some kind of bugs? I mean, I am in the south of France, it was 65 degrees yesterday, and I am nowhere near any mountains--this can't be snow. Well, after a few more kilometers it became apparent that it was indeed snow, but it was still just a few flurries on a completely clean highway, so nothing to worry about, right? A few kilometers more, and there is quite a bit of snow on the side of the road, and cars are driving noticeable slower. By the time we hit Nîmes, the roads where covered in snow, cars were barely moving, and to top things off, our GPS died.

The great blizzard of 2010

As I said earlier, it should have taken about 5.5 hours to get to my friend's hotel, but as we got a bit lost it took 6.5 hours. Logically, it should have taken 5.5 hours to get home from the hotel, but as we got stuck in the worst blizzard I have ever driven in, it took 11 hours. The last 7 hours to go only about 250 km (160 miles), with no GPS, nothing to drink, and an extremely full bladder.

Still, it was a fun trip. Seeing friends, eating tapas, and enjoying the (temporarily nice) Spanish climate was worth it.

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