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Spanish Secrets: Nightmare To A Dream - Phase One

At long last, rain in Galicia! Overnight, fruit trees have released their colourful blossom, like the opening of a floral jack-in-the-box. Camelia bushes, some the size of anchored hot-air ballons, have burst into flower... Craig Briggs relishes the present while recalling the stresses of the past.

At long last, rain!

A few days ago I was told we'd had the driest Galician winter on record. So it's a matter of great relief and genuine delight, that it's now rained for almost a week, with more forecast.

The rain has brought a vibrant explosion of life and colour to the surrounding countryside. Overnight, fruit trees have released their colourful blossom like the opening of a floral jack-in-the-box. Camellia bushes, some the size of anchored hot-air balloons, have burst into flower, looking like large pink and white marshmallows nestling in dark green velvet.

All this rain started me thinking about our journey here, almost three years ago.

Tuesday, May 7 2002, we left Huddersfield, England beginning our Spanish adventure.

For several weeks prior to this, we'd carefully packed and labelled all our worldly goods. The least important items found what should have been a temporary home, in my dads' loft.

Over a three-hour period, with a combination of architectural style, precision, and sheer brute force, the remainder was squeezed into my faithful Rover car. With our two mountain bikes safely secured to the rear cycle carrier, it was time to test the suspension.

Tentatively I pressed down on the rear of the car. To my surprise there was at least an inch of travel. As our journey from the north of England to Spain is theoretically all downhill, I considered this acceptable.

With all three passengers sitting as comfortably as commuters on a rush-hour train, my wife Melanie, our dog Jazz and me, set off on the first leg of our journey. We'd planned an overnight stop at my sister's in London, before catching the Eurotunnel train from Folkestone, England to Calais, France.

Upon arrival, and to our dismay and frustration, we found her driveway blocked. Greeting us was a bright yellow skip (dumpster) full of building rubble. Parking the car at the roadside overnight meant unloading everything of value. With a 6.00 am train reservation, repacking the car would mean a very early start the following morning. The alarm clock was set for 3.45am!

Our adventure hadn't started exactly as planned.

The following morning was dark and damp. In the dim glimmer of a nearby street light, we repacked the car. By 5.00 am the adventure resumed - destination, Folkestone.

Our first brush with disaster came only half an hour into the journey. In the early morning darkness I'd failed to properly secure our mountain bikes to the carrier. A quick glance in my mirror revealed one of them swinging viciously from side to side.

Quickly I pulled to the side of the road to inspect. In the rhythmic flashing of the hazard warning lights I secured it and we continued onwards. Cautiously at first - but now time was against us, and that wasn't the only thing.

A few miles further on a bright glow pierced the darkness of the dashboard. The fuel-fill light had illuminated, alerting us to our last gallon. Having minutes earlier passed a petrol station we decided to exit the carriageway, turn round, and head back towards London. Taking the next exit would enable us to refuel, then rejoin the carriageway heading once again towards Folkestone, and our waiting train.

We arrived at Folkestone passenger terminal with five minutes to spare, only to be told that boarding for the 6.00 am train was complete. Stress turned to panic, panic to despair.

"You'll have to take the 6.20 am now,'' we were politely told.

Despair turned to delight!

"You are aware it's a public holiday in France?"

Not having the faintest idea there was a public holiday in France, or why we hould be asked such a question, I nervously replied "Yes.''

Whilst queuing to drive the car onto the train, Melanie suggested the question might be related to our ticket purchase. Because of an enormous price difference, we'd bought a cheap day-return instead of a one way ticket. We've since found out that this is a very naughty thing to do, and we certainly neither recommend nor condone others making such savings.

We boarded the train and headed for France.

In our adventure so far, fate had dealt us a mixed hand. What followed would test our map reading capabilities, our holiday Spanish, our patience, stamina, determination and resolve.

To say nothing of the old girls durability. That's the car - not the wife!

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