…is breathtakingly beautiful! Having completed the endurance test of Day 1, it was a pleasure to drive on the French roads south of Bordeaux. As the temperature rose and the motorway snaked through the Gascogne national park (more wine country – if you’ve never tried a Côte de Gascogne white wine, you must!), the carriageway was lined with forest and after a few hours cypress trees began to appear – a sure sign of warmer climes.
Perhaps my only regret on this journey was the inability to take photographs of some of the insanely exquisite views of the surroundings. If I’d had more time, I maybe could’ve stopped the car at key points and taken more pictures, but that would have extended a journey already due to take 36 hours to complete. Even then, while the iPhone camera is impressive, it definitely doesn’t do justice to vast mountain vistas. Similarly, it is kind of sad that there was no room for Lydia and the boys on the journey. Having travelled by car and seen the stunning landscapes that light the path to Madrid, it seems a shame that the rest of my family didn’t get to see that as they parachuted in from up above.
Back to the road. South of Bayonne and Biarritz, the A63 skirts close to the azure waters of the Bay of Biscay as you pass Saint Jean de Luz and head on into the Western Pyrenees. The change of setting from one national park to another, Aiako Harria in the Basque country, was mind-blowing. The scenery was so incredible, I almost missed one of the most significant moments of the journey – the border crossing! Having said that, it’s not hard to miss given that either side of the border you are in Basque territory. I’d noticed the cessation of French language road signs a while before I knew I’d entered Spain. Once you hit the edge of the mountain ranges you begin a seemingly never-ending descent, which represents the most dramatic driving experience I’ve ever known. It is virtually impossible to have full concentration on the road when you’re suspended on a steep downhill gradient granting you perfect views of such awesome beauty!
Anyway, I managed it. The views led me to worship God for who He is, expressed in creation and nature, but also to passionately put Him first as I entered the nation of our new home for the first time as a permanent visitor. I knew very powerfully in that moment that this adventure wouldn’t last or even get off the ground if we weren’t arriving fully confident in our God and who we are in Him. It was emotional, I must say. I wept as I considered the cost of what we were leaving behind but also the thrill of what was ahead.
Following the awesome descent into Spain, the temperature began to steeply and inevitably rise once again. Before long, it was a case of pushing on as fast as possible towards Madrid in order to curtail my wanderings in the dry, dusty heat of central Northern Spain. Late August, especially this year, has been a time of soaring temperatures in Spain, prior to the expected 10 degree fall, part way through September. There’s a big difference between 38 as it was when I drove the last leg to Madrid and 28, which is common on a nice day in September! I stopped mid-afternoon for a taste of Jamón Ibérico and took a few minutes to appreciate the significance of this journey (I’m already blending in well with the culture – eating good ham and wrestling with the meaning of existence have been paired together in Spain for centuries!).
Our lives would never be the same. Even if we were to ‘fail’ and end up coming back to the UK in a year’s time, we would be forever changed. The hugeness of that moment – finally being in Spain, will stay with me for the rest of my life. I thought about the excitement of taking this step of faith and how it is intrinsically linked to the great responsibility to live well as a family and bring up our boys to know and love God in this new place. Feeling grateful and motivated, I got back in the car and set off on the excellent, if a little bumpy in places, Spanish motorway – with Madrid now in touching distance.
Stopping briefly a few more times to take pictures, get some air and drink plenty of water, I made decent progress and found myself on the motorways within the greater Comunidad de Madrid by early evening. The satnav on my phone was working perfectly – a good job given I had to delete virtually everything else on the phone to accommodate the massive map data! I made my way to the apartment I’d be staying in for a few weeks, belonging to Kevin and Vanessa Bartlett and family – Kev is leader of the church we’ve joined and as they were on holiday, we were so graciously offered their place as a base to begin our apartment search. I went via other church friends to pick up the key for the flat, thankful that in our previous visits to Madrid we had already made good friends and that they were all wonderfully willing to help us in any way they could.
The exhaustion didn’t set in until I was finally parked up and settled in the Bartletts’ place. It was an incredible journey, completed as quickly as possible to maximise time for the flat search – it was crucial we found somewhere before September arrived as work would begin soon afterwards and thousands of students would descend on Madrid, making the search extra tricky.
But for now, I was here. I’d made it. PTL.
Departure: Saint-Jores, Normandie, France 09:00 20/8/16
Arrival: Valdezarza, Madrid, Spain 19:00 21/8/16
(For those who are interested – the total journey cost including fuel, tolls, food and a place to stay for one night: €300)