Spring finally came with a week of hot sunshine as if the sun wanted to couldn’t wait any longer.
And now the cowslips have already passed and the violets too. Orchids are blooming in the meadows just beyond our house and the girls gather bunches of buttercups and forget-me-nots and beg for a twig of lilac to perfume the house with.
The swallows have returned, working without pause to repair their nests and raise their broods.
We visited Spain, deciding on April, to avoid baking in the heat of the van later in the season. We spent time in the hills and on the coast. It was, as ever with holidays where we endeavor to spend no money, both fun and exhausting, void of nearly all comfort but full of new sights to wonder at.
The first night we trailed up miles of small mountainside roads. We met an oncoming car and politely reversed, into a small storm drain, then passed thirty minutes trying to wedge branches in such a fashion that we might be able to get out again. At the sound of an approaching vehicle I flung myself into the road and flagged down a passing truck. The driver agreed to help, most reluctantly, it felt very awkward. Finally he managed to pull us out and we handed him our bottle of wine and good will suddenly replaced the sourness and we were no longer faced with the prospect of a night stuck on a winding mountain road.
We woke up the next morning, in the most southerly part of France, overlooking the mountains dotted like islands in a sea of mist. We packed breakfast into our bags and hiked up to the top of the hill to the border with Spain, marked by a barbed wire fence, keeping the french cows from the spanish cows.
Snow still lay in drifts along the roadside and a wind blew, chilling us to the bone. It felt exhilarating, the start to an adventure, a short and humble one and yet still, a new country, a new language and roads we'd not yet travelled.
From there we drove to the sea and parked up behind a beach where Dali once lived and where the surrounding hills are now dotted with luxury villas amongst the cactus and olives groves. We spent time in the town practising our abysmal spanish (or at least Florent did, I, shamefully, know hardly more than three words...) and drinking coffee, so much coffee to attempt to rectify the sleep deprivation after a night in the van with two over-excited, sweaty, legs-everywhere-throughout-the-night little girls. We trekked along a path following the coastline past small weathered oaks and terraces, crumbling in places, wild flowers and butterflies. We spent the morning on the beach studying a hermit crab as it scrambled over the shells in our tuperware pool before slipping out of its shell into a more roomy one. I began to worry that the girls were so attached to him that we would never be able to return him to the sea but they eventually agreed, upon hearing that they could have an ice cream back at the van.
During our trip Little L asked a thousand times why there were Catalan flags hanging from balconies and yellow ribbons tied to wire fences, monuments and pinned on peoples’ chests. And we explained, a thousand times. They ran through the streets of small towns shouting ‘Catalonia! Catalonia! Catalonia! Small patriots for a cause they didn’t understand. Little I understood that by smiling and saying ‘hola’ and ‘gracias’ to everyone she could, sometimes an elderly lady or benevolent shop keeper might pass her a sweet. Little L would frown on and then run off shouting ‘Catalonia!’. It felt exciting to be visiting a new country.
We finally arrived in Barcelona, grubby and in desperate need of a shower and made our way to a hostel, the cheapest one we found because I was too scared to sleep in the van there and Florent said we really needed to shower. The cheapest hostel seemed to mean rooms cleaned between guests with a quick spray of mens deodorant and an assortment of guests even stranger than ourselves. Needless to say we splet no better then had we been in the van. We wandered the streets of Gracia and peered into shop fronts, where somebody looking embodying cool, circa 2019, sat behind a desk and a MacBook. These places were so hipster that it wasn’t clear what was for sale or indeed if anything was for sale at all. We drank more coffee and Little I had the best meal of her life, a plate of ham and a bowl of olives. We visited the Sagrada Familia and had forgotten that we had our two Leathermen, an Opinel and my secateurs until our bags were x-rayed and the security guard looked us up and down quizzically, slightly shaking his head. There was no way to explain, even if we could speak Spanish, and I just silently thanked the universe that we had left the girls’ Opinels in the van and we weren’t at that moment counting five knives and a pair of secateurs into see through plastic bags for safe keeping. We walked around the basilica, under the sunlight transformed into the brightest of colours as it shines through the stained glass windows and lights up the floor. Little L listened to the audio commentary repeating ‘the pillars are designed like trees’ and then burying her face into my shoulder under the facade of The Passion.
Our final afternoon and we found ourselves by the sea. The wind was blowing a gale and surfers dotted the waves. We ate a picnic lunch watching men working out in an outdoor gym lifting huge jerry cans filled with sand, muscles straining aganist lengths of elastic. Little L declared that she thought we were actually in Brasil. Then it was a rush through another shower of rain and back to the van for the long drive home.