The Big Trip, Day 6: Barcelona – such a beautiful horizon

Distance covered today: 124 miles

Total distance covered: 1051 miles

After the unfortunate discovery that I had no data in Andorra, I’m keen to move on as soon as possible after posting this morning’s blog. After all, tempting though it is, I can’t stay in Bar Valor all day, and that’s the only place I can get the data I’ve planned the whole trip round. So before leaving I load up Google Maps with the route to a recommended parking spot in Barcelona, and head off.

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I must admit, my confidence is not what it was since I discovered the problem with the van’s wheel bearing. Thing is, for the non-technically minded among you, if the bearing loses all its grease and runs completely dry, there’s a risk the whole hub will seize up. At which point the wheel will snap off. That could obviously be a problem, particularly on a remote mountain road in the Pyrenees.

So I take it fairly easy, speed wise. Which is actually usually around the speed limit, but judging by the tailback I’m developing, I’m about the only one who wants to stick to it. I’m a polite Englishman of course, so I pull over several times to let the traffic past. Which at least allows me to snap some more photos of the still stunning views.

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The Spanish border is a mere few kilometres outside Andorra la Vella, but since my Spanish is still utterly hopeless I pull into the wrong lane at customs – it turns out to be the one for truckers. A stern faced female customs officer interrogates me perfunctorily and checks in the van; she plainly doesn’t believe I’m smuggling anything, but the motions must be gone through.

Entering Spain, I’m straight into Northern Catalonia, and the political tensions make themselves known pretty quickly. There are loads of tunnels on the route, hacked through the mountains in some cases with the bare rock still forming the interior. And above the entrance to many of these tunnels are graffitos involving the words ‘Espane’ and ‘Libertad’. I’d been worried that the locals might be annoyed by tourists, and maybe they are; but apparently the rule of Spain is even less popular.

It turns out that one of the tunnels is closed, so I follow the diversion sign, but it takes Google a while to catch up. By the time it has, I’ve gone the wrong way and it suggests a loop back through a small town to return to the correct route. Like a fool, I follow it (rather than just turning round, which I could have done). I’m amused to see a graffito on the road that shows that wherever you are some things are constant.

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Unfortunately, the route Google has chosen for its loop takes me through a narrow street that barely qualifies as a road. You might get through it in a Mini.

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But my van is somewhat bigger, and despite edging gingerly forward, the left hand mirror is soon scraping against a stone wall. I try to reverse – more scraping, this time from behind. Thank heaven I have a sliding door, so I nip out and fold both mirrors back. But the damage is done there – the left hand mirror is still attached, thankfully, but its plastic back is long gone.

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And it’s not over. Even as I get out of that street, I need to turn right into another, which is at least wider. Unfortunately the angle is not ideal for a vehicle of this length. More scraping ensues from somewhere on the side as a bemused local looks on with a small smile.

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Eventually I get back onto something that could be called a road, and discover a fair scrape down the left side, which has also pulled off the thick rubber trim down the side. I’m sure I can reattach it at some point, but for now I just want to get going so I yank it off and put it in the back.

Feeling rather stupid (I can’t blame anyone but myself really), I carry on. I don’t mind a few battlescars on the van, so I’m not overly bothered about what is basically cposmetic damage. But the incident, together with my worry about the leaky wheel bearing, shakes my driving confidence, and I take it even slower, hoping to get out of the Pyrenees soon. No such luck, but at least the views are still stunning.

Every right hand bend produces an ominous rumble from the left hand wheel bearing, and I find myself quoting Han Solo’s entreaty to his ship – “come on baby, hold together”. And she does, and from then on I decide – she’s a she, not an it. And I’m gonna call her the Falcon. Not the Millennium Falcon, that’s too on the nose. Just the Falcon. We’ll see how long this affectation lasts 🙂

The Spanish side of the Pyrenees seems to have smaller safety barriers at the side of the road (I’m probably just imagining this), and the vegetation on the mountains gets sparser as the temperature rises. It looks, not to put too fine a point on it, like the sort of mountain road that you frequently see James Bond driving along. Which doesn’t help my slight anxiety, as those sequences inevitably end with at least one car crashing through the safety barrier, tumbling down the mountain and exploding. The phone’s random music selection doesn’t help at this point when it presents me with a track from For Your Eyes Only.

Still, I belt up. I’ve had anxiety for so long I’m actually getting kinda good at ignoring it. And as I leave the Pyrenees and get onto a more normal stretch of dual carriageway, I actually find myself singing along to the Kinks, and Lola. Admittedly I was singing the words from the Weird Al version (Yoda), but my mood was better.

As I near Barcelona, I realise that this really is a city. It’s huge, and it’s more than a bit intimidating – thank heavens for Google Maps, as I remember getting lost in London so many times in the 90s.

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Barcelona town centre is very full, and this is the first real traffic congestion I’ve encountered since getting to Europe (I avoided Paris, remember). It’s also apparently some kind of low emission zone, but if the fumes belching out of the truck in front of me are any indic ation, I’ve got no need to worry.

The parking spot I selected from Park4Night turns out to be, typically, up the biggest hill in the city, almost at the top of the Parc de Montjuic, near the castle of the same name. It takes a couple of goes to get there, as one of the junctions comes up in a tunnel while there’s no phone signal. But eventually I do, and there are several other campers already parked there. This is encouraging.

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One of their inhabitants, apparently German, comes up and asks if I know where to go for the World Rally Championship. I really, really don’t, but it’s interesting to find out there’s a leg of it on in Barcelona right mow.

I’m here a day earlier than I expected, so Tom’s still at work teaching this evening. I’ll have to entertain myself for now. Not a problem, I’ve been self-reliant all week – I can’t let myself fall into patterns of depending on someone else just because he’s in the same geographical area. We’l catch up later, I’m sure.

I have a quick shower in the van and change into shorts – it’s bloody hot here! Then I Google local bars, and find one that isn’t centred on tapas. All right, it’s one of the ubiqitous Irish bars (it’s actually called the Irish Rover), but I should be able to get beer without needing to also buy tapas.

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And they do have some good beer. In fact, I end up drinking a Bavarian wheat beer called Franziskaner, which I developed a taste for on my recent trip to Luxembourg. In Catalonia, in Spain, in an Irish pub, drinking a German beer. This is why I don’t want the UK to leave Europe. How can I do this if we need a visa for every country over the Channel?

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So here I blog, enjoying myself with a couple of beers until Tom’s finished teaching. Don’t even know if he’ll have time to see me tonight as he wasn’t expecting me till tomorrow. I’m here till Monday, probably, and at some point I need to try and get that wheel bearing sorted out. But I’ll take it as it comes – that’s been the mantra for this whole trip 🙂

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