I’m a little sad to be bidding farewell to my Spanish holiday. I mean, I know we came home almost a month ago, but the promise of revisiting the photos, and recording all the little moments that could so easily be swept up in “when we went to Spain” as memories fade with the suntan has kept that holiday aura alive and present, wrapped around me like a cloak against the dank days of an English autumn. It seems that it’s almost time to take off the cloak and go in search of the thermals (at least if today’s grey dripping daylight was anything to go by).
But not quite. Because right now my memories are on the road to Bolonia, on a lane twisting up and over the ridge of hills that bastioned the coast, before depositing us neatly at the city gates of Baelo Claudia, or at least, what remains of them. Baelo Claudia was a Roman city, prosperous from a salted tuna fish industry right up until the 6th century and then abandoned.
And yet more than 2,000 years later, it’s bones are still there. When you think about it like that it’s amazing that anything’s still there, although I fear that H and I have been forever spoilt for Roman ruins by our visit to Ostia (the old port to Rome) many years ago. Ostia is vast, and the silt that preserved it has held up several levels of many of the properties – if you ever get the chance to go, grab it with both hands and hand over your passport. Baelo Claudia, for all that it was granted a city title was not that big, which made it perfect for wandering around, especially with our two tiny girls who I’m afraid didn’t seem that interested in Roman antiquity (sorry Grandpa, I’ll try harder).
We weren’t helped by the sun, beating down mercilessly on the hottest day of our trip, a day when even the salamanders would have fainted from the heat, but with Kitty and her grandparents leading an advance party back to the shade of the visitor centre, we gently toured the forum, salting factories and the theatre before heading to join them for a very long cool drink.
Heading south again, we passed the road signs for the ferry to Tunisia, and rounding the corner we saw this view again .
It doesn’t look like much does it; trees, shrubs, a bit of sea and some clouds, but those shadowy peaks in the middle – that’s Africa. Actual, genuine Africa.
There aren’t a lot of places where you can stand on one continent and look at another.
It plays with your mind a little, especially if you’re British. I mean we’re not entirely comfortable with the idea of being able to see another country from within our borders, let alone a whole new continent. H and I kept pointing it out to each other;
“Look! It’s Africa! Actual genuine Africa!”.
It’s not a sight I ever thought I would see with my own eyes.
But as we rounded the bend, Africa became merely a memory, with the rock of Gibraltar looming on the horizon. We went a little passed Gibraltar and down to the Spanish Mediterranean coast, for a change of golf course and to make the early start for the airport a little less early.
It’s an equally beautiful part of the world, but the scenery is quite different; more mountains and more greenery, although the latter may well be due to garden sprinklers in a slightly more built up area as much as nature.
We weren’t a million miles away from wherever it is that they play important and exciting professional Spanish Golf because H and the grandparents took the girls off to find it one morning. But I can’t claim it as a “seen with my very own eyes” because I didn’t go with them, I was here:
Elysium. A “state of perfect happiness” according to the dictionary. Sounds about right to me.
And after my less than pidgin Spanish latched onto the second word I recognised in the list of massage options, the first being rejected because it was ‘sport’, I had a truly blissful battering that undid every knot and creak in my back from a week of lugging around two children and their accoutrements, followed by a pedicure that restored my beach battered feet to a condition that they had better not get used to.
My favourite part of pedicures is the moment when you get to pick your colour; I was handed a large tub with at least 50 little pots of every shade under the sun, and I truly don’t think there was one I didn’t like. Somewhat predictable I gravitated towards the blue (I mean, reading here, who would have thought that I like turquoisey blues!), and after a brief haver over a dark velvety midnight blue, I made my choice, and each little toenail was carefully coated in “In the Cab-ana” turquoise (it’s an Essie colour).
I think I floated back to our room, it was wonderful. And I got to knit while my toes were being painted. What more could a girl want.
But as all good things must only come in moderation, it was time to enter again what to a casual observer could only appear to be some sort of crazy, EU-sponsored mash up between Challenge Annika and It’s a Knockout.
We arrived at La Linea McDonalds, possibly the only fast food restaurant that has security on the car park, with the express intention of preventing everyone using the car park as a drop off point to the border crossing. Everyone uses the layby just ahead of it.
The boys returned the cars and then we loaded up. Four adults, two small children, four suitcases, two sets of golf clubs, two infant car seats, a buggy, and at least four pieces of hand luggage. H carried a car seat in it’s travel bag over each shoulder, and a suitcase in his free hand, I wore Elma, pushed Kitty in the buggy with the hand luggage stowed underneath, and looped the top handle to H’s golf clubs over the handlebar. H couldn’t fit through narrow gaps, and I couldn’t turn tight corners.
After some interesting manoeuvring through first Spanish and the British passport control, Gibraltar airport, and especially the check in desk, was a very welcome sight.
I’m afraid to say that we saw no more of Gibraltar than the airport, although thanks to a French air traffic control strike we did see a lot of it, and I never even realised it was Gibraltar Day the day we flew home until some weeks later. But there’s no escaping the presence of that rock, gargantuan and proud of it, towering over the rest of the bay.
(full marks to Gibraltar airport for allowing fresh air too).
But the funny/insane thing (delete as applicable depending on whether or not you’re flying today) is the runway. Well not the runway so much as the road that runs across it.
See those cars. That’s the runway. Incidentally that’s also the Gibraltar national football stadium in the background. All morning we watched traffic stream back and forth, desperately hoping for the halt which would signal the arrival of our plane.
And when we taxied to the very very back of the runway for take off, we rolled past people sat on their bikes at the barriers and cars with their windows rolled down. It was totally surreal, and that’s before you start to wonder whether what you can see out of the window just behind the wing means that the tail of the plane is actually hanging over the sea. But then the engines roar and fling you into the sky.
Back over dry perpetually parched hills iced with little white dots of villages; over unfamiliar coastline; over mountains; over ever greener fields; over another coast; over tiny toy freight liners steaming through a deceptively calm channel; over a wooly grey cloud cover that stretches to every horizon. And finally down, to a cool September day, with rain drops harried in on the breeze.
It’s all just a memory now, save for a fading tan, a thousand photos (ish) and ten turquoise toes, still without a single chip four weeks later. As memories go, it’s one of the best.