Well how things change in such a short space of time…
We arrived in Estepona in Spain to spend the cold winter months in the sun. We were due to leave on 15th March. We had booked all our accommodation and Eurostar train for the four days it would take us to come home. Then suddenly things went mad. Coronavirus crept up on us and the situation took us by surprise.
There we were on Thursday 12th doing a bit of shopping in Carrefour and wondering why the queues were massive. On Friday, the Estepona Tapas competition was cancelled but we still walked into town and had a few drinks and some tapas as our friends were leaving on Saturday to return to France.
Saturday we went back to Carrefour to get some food for the journey and some to take home, but what a difference a day had made. It was crazy busy, queues even longer and some panic buying.
Then we started hearing about the lockdown. We didn’t really know what to do. The villa we were staying in was free for the next few weeks, so we asked if we could stay. We rang our travel insurers and asked if they would cover any costs but they told us that we would have to wait until Monday as the underwriters weren’t in! We were not happy but after a lot of thought, we decided to not leave on our departure date. We cancelled all our accommodation. We were afraid that we would get stuck at the Spanish/French border and be in no mans land. We decided to go back to the supermarket and stock up as we wouldn’t be allowed out after the lockdown.
On Monday, on lockdown, we waited on the phone for an hour and half to speak to the insurers. Eventually, late in the afternoon, we received an email saying they would not pay our accommodation as it was possible for us to travel home by car. We started to panic a bit as the news was that the borders were closing. I joined several groups on Facebook and desperately tried to find out whether it was possible to drive out. No one really seemed to know. There seemed to be lots of information for people who had flown to Spain but nothing for people like us who had driven.
We made a decision about 5pm to do a runner early on Tuesday morning. Half our stuff was still packed and we had to leave a lot of frozen food in the freezer as we didn’t know how long it would take us to get back and if we would be able to get any accommodation with cooking facilities.
We packed everything into the car and trailer and prepared ourselves food to eat on the way and finally went to bed about 12 midnight.
We set the alarm for 4.30 am with a view of going as sooon as we were ready. We hardly slept at all. We didn’t really know what was going to happen, but just felt we need to get back home.
When that alarm went off, little did we know what a long day we were going to have. We locked up and left at 6.00 am. It was dark and raining! It rarely rains in Estepona so this took us by surprise.
However, we got everything in, locked up and got on the A-7 to get us away from Estepona. It was eerie and I was convinced we were going to get stopped by the Police many times along the way. We agreed to drive in 2 hours slots.
The A-7 turned into the AP7, which is a toll road. We planned to get out by the quickest means and that meant using all the Toll roads there were, despite the cost. We didn’t plan to get out of the car except for fuel and to give Mollie a quick walk.We had a flask of coffee, water, food and snacks. We set the Sat Nav for Madrid.
So we drove to Madrid. We really were expecting to see a big Police presence and roadblocks. But there were none!
Our original plan was to try and get to the border. However, once we realised that the roads were quiet, we agreed that we would carry on driving into Poitier in France if possible. It would mean driving in the dark again. I contacted the Air B&B I had cancelled and asked if he would reinstate it. He agreed so we had something to drive too.
When we got to the border, there was a massive queue of lorries but fortunately, we drove up the outside lane and as we drew closer we were waved through and didn’t have to stop. We were so relived!
The next few hours we plodded on. We stopped at a service station to have a picnic on the trailer 😂 and use the loo and re- fuel again. We went through endless tolls but gloved up each time and wiped the credit card each timeworn anti -bac. I was paranoid about getting germs!
It was a long slog to Poitier and all in all it took us 16 and a half hours to get there. We were very tired, but happy that we didn’t have to sleep in the car, as we thought we might have to. We were able to shower, eat and sleep before the last leg of our journey.
Once we arrived at Calais, we had a while to wait. The restaurants were all closed but the loos were open. We were instructed to use the toilet facilities as the ones on the train were closed. We were also told to stay in the car for the duration of the train journey.
We had to get Mollie’s passport signed off and then we went and waited for the train. We went through French customs first who didn’t even look at our passports. The British Passport control looked at our passports but shockingly didn’t even ask us where we had been or whether we were well!
Eventually we got on the train and arrived in Folkestone for the 3 hour drive back home. It was a scary journey as it was dark and rainy and the motorways were packed with lorries.
We finally arrived back home at about 10.30 so pleased to be safe and well. I am going on a self imposed isolation for 2 weeks and Mark will go out for supplies. After 2 weeks, assuming we are both well, I will take my turn walking the dog and going shopping.
It was a long journey but we are so glad we made the decision to leave. Who knows what the next few months have in store, but whatever happens, we are at home and at least we can garden, cook and I can sew.