THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
On the road again
Homage to Catalonia

Through the Rioja country to Zaragoza

After one smooth crossing I can recommend the Portsmouth to Santander ferry as an easy, relaxing way from the productive North to the relaxed South of Europe. Given the number of coach tripping pensioners on board the voyage even made me feel young again by comparison. Whether I would be as enthusiastic after a rough crossing is of course moot. 

I arrived at 1815 yesterday afternoon and made my way from the ferry dock to a nearby hotel to rest up before the real driving started. I shall decline to form a view of Spanish food on last night's fare but it nourished and was comfortably digested. 

ImageI set off early to drive to Vitoria so that I could follow a road suggested by a travel blog from there to Logroño through the vines of Rioja country. As my ultimate Spanish destination is a winery in the Priorat region this seemed a good preparation. It was good to get off the autovia and drive a winding two lane blacktop through forested hills and vined valleys.

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Such roads also present better opportunities for "Ferrari moments" when Speranza gets the chance to overtake in situations lesser cars could not. There was only one small such moment today, but I am still getting used to the local driving style so it's perhaps as well.

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I don't "do politics" when on a travel photography outing like this, but it's hard for a UK taxpayer not to wonder where the money seized from him by state force goes when driving the superb roads I have experienced today.

Spain is supposed to be, relatively speaking, an economic basket case and I believe its taxes are lower than the UK's. Yet the roads are excellent and well maintained. Indeed there was some routine maintenance going on at intervals with little disruption to traffic and no sign of the "health and safety gone mad" stuff that so increases the costs and delays of public works in Britain. There are low temporary limits set and people seem happily to comply with them for the safety and comfort of the chaps working on the road.

Unlike in the automotive hell that is the south-east of England – it's a pleasure to drive here. I spent most of today doing my chosen speed in the inside lane, pulling out only to overtake. Not having the radio token for Spanish toll roads yet and having no passenger to deal with tickets and payments I thought I might have hassle but at each toll booth a series of kindly employees emerged to give Speranza the thumbs up and deal with it for me.

I haven't met many Spanish people yet and I realise that I am spending most of my time in the Basque Country and Catalonia on this trip, but I have to say my small sample suggests they are a kindly, friendly, unenvious bunch with a fine appreciation of the automotive arts.

My rest stop tonight is in Zaragoza — if I can find it. It's a new hotel in a new district and is unknown to Speranza's satnav. As Spanish is not one of my languages, asking directions is more than usually unlikely (and what male likes asking anyway?) Best keep the iPhone charged so Mr Google can guide if necessary.

As always on these blogger journeys I am adding waypoints to a map here.

Each new way point is automatically tweeted here

Please feel free to make suggestions as to things I should see or do along the way.

PS: Speranza's sat nav got me to within half a mile of the hotel and Google Maps finished the job nicely. It's modern, pretty and (apart from the fact that the architect – clearly a Chelsea tractor man or woman – designed an insanely and pointlessly steep approach to the underground parking that required a ginger approach with our low ground clearance) seems really rather splendid.

When the sun starts to go down I am going to take out my "proper camera" for the first time and see what is to be seen. IMG_6247

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