I’m inviting a rare guest to the blog today – my dad!
As a former English teacher and gifted writer (he’ll cringe when he reads that), I told him the only way he and my mum could join my three year old and I on a review trip to Spain would be if he wrote something about it.
So here it is.
“Just go!” she orders from the babyseat as the wait to drive into the Big Boat snaps her three year old patience. She’s not concerned about the cars in front of us, bringing back memories of her mother and her sister at about her age, at the start of our annual trek to France. The excitement is an urgent, physical tingling as the adventure is about to begin and I’m pleased by its rippling through the generations from Frog to Molly, to Ghislaine (Molly’s mum) and to me, her dad.
And then on the ramp, into the jaws of the Pont-Aven, I say, “I only hope they remember to close the doors” and Molly groans, “Not again, Dad – you always used to say that!” She even texts her sister Lizzy who can’t believe that Dad would say that yet again. Their loving scorn is cement between the generations.
When our girls were young we always went to France. We did consider the crossing to Santander in order to widen our horizons but the reputation of the Bay of Biscay put us off. I am a little worried, therefore, at the captain’s tannoyed announcement that crossing the bay today and tonight might be a little rough, owing to high winds from the south-west. (In fact, I was amazed at how smooth it was – a slight rise and fall, the occasional small shiver but nothing uncomfortable or alarming. The size and technology of the boat must have a flattening effect, I suppose.)
On our previous family trips we never dared use the restaurant with our young children, worrying about its formality and cost in relation to the self-service cafeteria. This evening, though, the waiter is cheerful and relaxed as we ask for a small spoon and a tub of ice cream for Frog, as her very first experience afloat lessens her appetite. He doesn’t mind that her pasta hasn’t been touched and nobody need feel self-conscious. The rest of us thoroughly enjoy excellent food, though Mols takes Frog back to the cabin before her cheese and dessert. I’m impressed that the waiter offers to bag these up for her, should we want him to.
All in all the crossing is a very pleasant experience, particularly after Frog perks up the following morning and we see a pod of dolphins swimming and leaping beside the boat as we near the Spanish coast. And Spain, so close, so soon!
We appreciate having our own car and clutter as we drive along the coast from Santander to Noja, a short and easy journey. The scenery is dramatic, craggy but much greener than the Spain I’ve seen before. Plumes of pampas grass sprout from rock faces and then there’s a valley as green as Wales. This is where many Spanish come to holiday, I’m told, and the atmosphere certainly seems mellow, compared to the Mediterranean coast or the heat of the interior at this time of year. The roads are calm and well-signed and there are very few other foreign cars on them as we drive to our resort. Frog and Ghislaine are happy in the back and Mols navigates easily.
We arrive in Noja in the rain and the tourist development is very quiet now but we stare at the sea, the sand, the rocks and the surf before finding a cheap and friendly bar for lunch. We have precious little Spanish language between us but a smile and sign language gets us through. It seems that the Spanish in Cantabria have less need to speak English than elsewhere in Spain, but we feel very welcome and nothing is too daunting.
Our stay of a few days passes in a blur. The apartment is very comfortable and easy to manage, though I worry about the marble staircase and floors with a toddler, but no harm comes. The basement parking is very convenient and we discover more life, what feels like ordinary, genuine Spanish life, in the older part of town. The weather picks up and we are amazed by the Safari park about 45 minutes’ drive back towards Santander. The views are breath-taking, as is the range of animals, roaming in their cleverly designed open enclosures. Frog wants to touch the elephants and she loves the bells on the goats and their pooh on the track. She loves being roared at by her human mummy lion, but is a little more wary of the real thing. A brilliant day out, except that now Froga is nagging for the beach and a new bucket and spade.
Back on the beach in Noja we experience a miracle: We are unable to find a bucket and spade shop open during siesta, and most of the holiday shops by the beach have closed for the season. Oh dear – are there going to be tantrums? The Brittany Ferries beach ball goes down well in the breeze (“chase me, chase me!”) but how is Frog going to dig? This is when the Beach of Bounty offers up her spoils. Beachcombing hero grandad finds not just one, but THREE plastic spades, one rake, two buckets and even a couple of plastic balls for her to play with. The beach is very clean but the tide (and litter bins) are generous today. Thank you, Neptune or your Spanish relation.
And suddenly it’s time to leave.
How lovely to have been so foreign and with one’s own car and things after such a short drive. How lovely to have seen such spectacular scenery. Most of all, though, how lovely to have spent a few days with my daughter, my granddaughter and my wife mooching about in Spain in September. (Oh, and lovely, too that the prices in Spain were so cheap!) I’d love to go back.
Thank you to Brittany Ferries who provided us with travel and accommodation for the purpose of this series of posts. All opinions remain those of my dad – who is always honest!