320. A Holiday From Our Holiday

After getting stuck in Paris for 2 weeks sorting out insurance dramas, our plans had  changed from camping and cruising around the country side to staying in a horrible hotel in the middle of a busy, expensive and touristy city. Between navigating public transport, lining up for everything and what felt like endless hours of hold music while we tried to sort ourselves out, we were exhausted! Not to mention all the city hopping that had been going on before Paris.

So we decided that we needed a holiday from our holiday, and went in search of somewhere to relax on the beach, tick the “learn to surf” bucket list item off and just chill out for a while. Because it was short notice, we needed cheap flights (which had to be from London, as we had to take the van back, another amazing race-esque nightmare), an easy way to get to Belgium afterward, where we had tickets for a music festival, cheap accomodation, sand and surf. The answer to our prayers came in the form of the small Island of Fuerteventura, in the Canary Islands. Whilst technically part of Spain, it is actually a lot closer to the North of Africa.

Fuerteventura, it seems, used to be quite the booming holiday destination, especially popular among the Brits, being Teneriffe’s younger, more relaxed brother. Post GFC, however, the massive boom in tourism has suffered quite the shock and not only is there a tonne of accommodation that seems unfillable, there are heaps of new developments which have been completely abandoned mid-construction. The result for us was staying in a resort for the price of a hostel for some of the time we were there! Ultimately what sold us was a place by the name of “Azul Fit” which appeared from the website to by a surfing/yoga retreat, though when we arrived it was more of an uber relaxing yoga/spa type place with surfing as an add on. What a shame!

Fuerteventura is also often named the “Hawaii of Europe” and has a booming surf culture when the season kicks in (just as summer has ended), so there are a tonne of surf schools available.

Before we could get there, however, we had the problem of returning our campervan which we technically weren’t allowed to drive. Initially the rental company had offered to come pick it up from us, seeing as we had paid for 40 days and only been able to use it for two. However when we called to organise the pickup, it seemed they had decided to put an imaginary time limit on the offer and instead wanted to charge us £1300. Given we weren’t allowed to drive, it seemed our only option (we called around a number of transporters, all quoting similar prices, some even more). Unfortunately our insurance company refused to cover that, which was really frustrating as I’m not sure what else they expected us to do. Neither of us had that much spare cash lying around, nor were we keen on incurring such a cost if we weren’t able to get it back. Thankfully, just as we were tossing up the pros and cons of leaving it on the side of the road, or taking the risk and driving it anyway, we heard back from Spaceships rentals who had finally contacted their insurers after much insistence from us, and found that they would cover us to drive it. One the one hand we were very frustrated it had taken so much time and mucking us round for them to think to contact their own insurers for advice on our situation, but on the other hand we were so excited to get the go ahead to move on with our holiday that we were pretty much in the car straight away and on the road!

As with our earlier Amazing Race-esque experiences with getting between the UK and Europe, we once again had a bit of a nightmare on our hands. After getting from Paris to Calais, just as we were about to get on to the ferry we had a flat tire. As the two of us hopelessly tried to follow the instructions in our little book to change it (I tell you, that thing was no IKEA manual) we could see all the little ferry terminal men standing around laughing at us and being all French. Finally a police car came past and the friendly Gendarmes looked at us (both of us wearing dresses, which really added to the damsel in distress factor), stifled laughter and took over. Who am I to say no if someone wants to do some manual labour for me?

I managed to get the jack under the car, got a little stuck on the bit where you actually need force...

I managed to get the jack under the car, got a little stuck on the bit where you actually need force…

 

IMG_3467Having missed the earlier ferry, the ever so unhelpful rental company once again left us high and dry and said that it would be too late to meet us when we arrived, which was a serious spanner in the works as we had super early flights to Barcelona the very next day. With a sinking feeling we realised we may not be able to make our flights. Could we leave the van parked outside, hide the keys and get to the airport? Do we know anyone we could leave it with? I had an idea that perhaps there might be a car storage company that did pickups and deliveries, and we could pay for one night of storage in order for it to be dropped off the next day during business hours. At our first opportunity, we pulled in to a rest stop where I preceded to call around as many possible companies. Thankfully there was a McDonald’s there so I could do some swift internet searching. There were really only a few options, most of which were giving some outrageous quotes. Finally we got hold of one guy, who although he had just sat down for dinner seemed happy to help us out. He even offered to drop us at the airport after we had delivered the car to his yard! Ideal. By that stage we’d decided to just suck it up and pay the £100+ to get the car delivered.

As we drove to his yard, it turned out to be really in the middle of nowhere. Driving along unlit country roads, we were definitely getting quite nervous about where exactly we were going. I recounted all the horror movies I could (Taken and Wolf Creek especially) and reminded myself that the psycho killer always approaches the victims, not the other way round. I also reminded myself at any point if things seemed weird we could jump ship and take the financial hit!

As it turns out, we were rescued by the official most lovely person on the face of the earth! The company, Jordan’s Car Storage, is a Storage company for mostly very expensive cars, that offers pick up/delivery services and is on hand in emergencies. It was in the middle of nowhere so as to be a safe and secure location for all the classic cars and Porsche’s in the garage. Our Knight in Shining Armour, also known as Marc, the owner, had assumed we were representatives of one of his clients wanting one of their cars moved in the middle of the night, so when two very tired looking girls in a bright orange campervan with a space saver tire and a broken window turned up, he seemed quite surprised! After we recounted our tale of woe and all the troubles we’d had after the break in, he told us about how a few years earlier he was in Cairns, Australia, almost out of money when a woman had put herself out of pocket to get him a job in the mines, lent him money for his medical certification and uniform/steel capped boots and basically rescued him from having to crawl home broke to the UK. Instead he had a great time and worked his way up the ranks fairly quickly. It seemed he felt that this was his moment to pay it forward, and when he dropped us at the airport he refused to take any money from us, not even petrol money.

It was absolutely one of those moments that restores your faith in humanity, particularly as we had until then still been fuming about the rotters who stole from us in the first place, the rental company who was completely useless and seemed to endlessly be attempting to take advantage of us, our own travel insurers who at the time appeared to be worming their way through every loophole to not help us, not to mention the terribly difficult and unhelpful hotel staff at our Parisian accomodation for the time we had been trying to sort ourselves out. There were a number of other people we encountered who, let’s just say we hope we never do again (particularly police in Lille), but those who I really remember in great detail were Marc, the hotel receptionist in Lille who sat down and translated what had happened into French so we could go to the Police station and get a report, and finally the last Policeman who helped us in Lille, after all the others had made stupid excuses to turf us off to someone else because they didn’t want to speak English, and of course the Police in Calais who changed our tire. It is definitely the nice acts that I remember, and thanks to Marc, or perhaps the woman who helped him in Cairns (and maybe someone even helped her out some time when she was stuck in a foreign country), I will definitely make sure I pay it forward as soon as I get an opportunity!

And with that we were on our way to Barcelona for a few days stopover before arriving at what did indeed prove to be the most relaxing, lovely and enjoyable place imaginable, and I still dream of going back there whenever life gets stressful…

282. The Most Unhelpful GPS

I think most people say this about their GPS systems. They are such a blessing and a curse, but this one was particularly unhelpful (like every interaction with Spaceships Rentals). It reminded me of the days when Dad was giving me driving lessons and would say “Oh, you were supposed to go left back there.” On the bright side, I aced U-turns in the test.

IMG_3149

281. Stumble Across Feminist Mecca

We got severely lost trying to find our rental car company and wound up dragging our suitcases around an industrial area in the outskirts of London when BAM there it was, the Dagenham Ford factory, AKA where the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968 went down, which ultimately led to the Equal Pay Act 1970.*IMG_3079 (640x480)
Stumbling across that factory definitely made me feel like we were visiting a historical monument or tourist attraction, rather than wandering around in what felt like circles with a really heavy backpack, but also reminded me we were really in the middle of nowhere and should just ask someone for directions…

*OK so a little research revealed that it all actually went down at another factory, but its much more magical to assume the film was historically accurate! A great movie too.

280. Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas

Dover’s finest

After the travel nightmare/random excitement that had gone on that day (depends how you look at it, really), we realised it had been a while since we had had any food. As we were about to leave the mother country for France, we thought we ought try the finest local cuisine so we could easily compare it to that of the French. In Dover, the finest local cuisine came from the local chippy – the ‘Golden Grill Fish Bar.’

A fine selection

Which classic grey skies and very few remaining pennies and pounds, it was the natural choice. If there’s one thing everyone knows about what the British eat, it is that fish and chips must always come with mushy peas. I had previously worked in Australia with a bunch of English and Irish expats, and had learned another hot tip: curry sauce. Luckily I’d had the fortune of dining with such masters of cuisine at the fine establishment that is Irish Murphey’s in Brisbane, and had learned that curry sauce in the United Kingdom is nothing at all like the vindaloo my former Indian Masterchef flatmate would make. Good thing I went into this experience armed with that knowledge.

Not at all what I was expecting

As it turns out, the curry sauce was a very wise choice, as the mushy peas were every bit as unappetising as one might guess. It was like dipping your chips into pea and ham soup, except that there’s no ham, or any kind of flavouring whatsoever to make it taste of, well, anything. After complaining about this to some English travellers I met later on in Croatia, they informed me that they must be doing it wrong in Dover. I’m not opposed to the idea of giving mushy peas another chance, but I can’t say I’d go out of my way to do so…

Exceptional advertising. Major drawcard right there

279. The Olympic Torch

We’re going to ignore the terrible photo taking skills and the fact that I almost missed the torch and remember I only had a few seconds to get the shot…

In what I’m happy to call at this early stage in my life as the most tolerable travel delay ever, we got stuck in Dover due to the arrival in the UK of the Olympic Torch. There are worse parades to get held up buy, and as we didn’t actually have any pre purchased tickets or accommodation to worry about losing out on, we were happy to stick around and tick this unplanned one-off off the bucket list.

Excitement filled!

It was a stunningly typical English day (read:rainy and grey) which probably helped us navigate to the front of the crowd. For anyone that marvels at the wonders of the torch staying lit over such large distances, each runner actually has their own torch. And it is gas fired. It’s really more like a giant, fancy looking barbeque lighter. We managed to position ourselves right by the “handover” where one incrediblynervous looking boy was standing holding his torch, waiting for the runner to come by. Naturally we heckled until he came over to let us take a photo with it. Win.

“Handover”

Not long after, the kid before him came jogging along, complete with an entourage. And I mean a serious entourage – there was actually a bus following him! As he arrived, he stopped and had a yarn with the other boy, they pressed the wee button on the next torch and off he went. Both of these kids had multiple minders with radios and all sorts telling them want to do and herding them into the bus when they were done. It was all very efficient, though it seems there were probably far more staff than necessary!

Torchbus

Kid #2

As the boy who’d just finished his leg walked toward the bus I overheard the cutest conversation as he was gasping for breath saying “I think that’s the fastest I’ve ever run! My arm was getting sore and normally I would have stopped and had a break, but I think I did OK. Did I do ok? Was I fast enough? I think I was fast enough…” and so on as he dissected all of his leg of the run in great detail. Bless.