Just before the end of the summer holidays we decided to go away in the van and explore the coast in Aude for the first time. It's an area of salty lagoons surrounded by arid hills covered in vines, set behind sandy strips of beach and beyond, the Mediterranean. 

Somewhere on the journey there, through endless forests and gorges and hills the van became jerkier and we became quieter and quieter. We tried to pretend everything was fine. Stopped. Wandered around a beautiful town, swam in a river, ate ice cream, wilted a little under the heat. Then we carried on toward the coast but unsurprisingly the van hadn't got better and by the time we arrived at the sea there was no denying that things felt disastrous. We arrived where we had planned to spend the night and stopped short at a height restriction barrier, a feature we were to become familiar with. Eventually we limped along a quiet track and found somewhere to camp for the night.

The next morning we woke up next to a lake. So calm that the reflections on it were as still as paintings. We took a walk along the track. Schools of fish were circling near the surface and occasionally one or two would flip out and disturb the stillness of the water. As we were following the path up towards the top of a small headland Little I starting calling out 'bird' 'bird', leaning backwards in my arms and twisting her head to look upwards. In the sky were the unmistakable silhouettes of flamingos flying above us, we could hear their calls and whistling sound at the beat of their wings. It was a magical moment, made more special by Little I having spotted them. We continued our walk through coastal pines and vineyards and then back down when a second group of flamingos flew over our heads.

Back at the van and confronted with the reality of a vehicle that felt as if it were on it's swansong journey we found ourselves making phone calls in a Lidl car park, trying to diagnose the problem and decide whether to continue and probably break down or return home and probably break down on the way. The girls were clamoring to get to the sea, Florent was desperate to get home and I was pretending to agree with him but desperately hoping somehow we could still have a holiday.

Somehow the morning passed and after one more supermarket car park emergency engine inspection and a very welcome air conditioned shopping centre toilet break we decided to try to get to the sea.

And the holiday continued like that. Episodes of tense driving, tight-lipped Florent, wide-eyed me, oblivious and sometimes very impatient girls and then some hours exploring a beautiful village, craving shade and ice cream or scanning the lagoons for more flamingos and other birds.

We did get to the sea for the girls. The length of the beach was decorated with bright parasols, bathers with sun aged wrinkled skin, children carrying inflatables twice their size and enough sand and salt water to transport the girls to their own version of heaven. Everything was in technicolor. The brightness of the light above a glistening sea and under a cloudless sky made it feel like a film set.

We saw the salt pans and the mountains of salt, piled into pyramids. We saw two hoopoes as we sought shade at the bottom of a village surrounded by an almond orchard and opposite a door covered in hunting trophies. We learnt that it's impossible to use nearly all car parks along this stretch of the Med with a vehicle that's 2.7 metres high. The girls washed under the jerry can but mostly didn't wash at all. We spent each night not too far from a sign forbidding us to do so and wincing at each occasional pass of headlights, waiting to be asked to move on, but weren't. I was eaten by mosquitoes but the girls were thankfully spared.



Most thankfully of all we did get home again. Both of us completely exhausted and swearing never to holiday like that again. Now with some time having passed the sharper edges have worn away and I am already only remembering the sunsets and perfect morning cups of tea whilst watching the girls play in dirt.


About half way through our trip we realised what the problem was. The kind of fuel we'd been using... It turns out that our van's engine doesn't like the cheaper petrol we'd used and so it's back to the more expensive one and a lot less stress.


  1. Glad the van is working again! I have that feeling when you are so desperate for a holiday/day out that against your own judgement you wish you to carry on even though you know it is against your better judgement, one day life might take us to a point where our vehicles no longer create obstacles for our journeys x x


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