A journey with barriers

Each summer in my childhood we went on vacation as a family. And travelling is always a bit of adventure (remember this for example) .

In 1992 my parents and my aunt and uncle had booked a rental villa in Portugal. My sister had a student job and was going to stay at home, but I could hang out with my cousin. We had it all planned out: I'd drive the 2-day journey with my parents whereas my aunt's family would fly into Lisbon on the day of our arrival.

While we were enthousiastically preparing our trip at the end of June, the ominous bulletins reached us on the news. The truckers in France were upset for a new drivers license system and started blockades on all major routes. Their timing couldn't be worse: right at the start of the tourist season when thousands of tourists travelled to or through France. All the time they were making more and more blockades on highways, causing huge traffic jams and people being plainly stuck.

As if we'd not believe the news on its own , my aunt phoned to tell us that her daughter and her boyfriend had gotten stuck in such a traffic jam on a highway, couldn't turn back anymore. In the end they had found a place to stay in the village nearby.

Needless to say that we followed each bulletin frantically and as the number of blockades and traffic jams was rising, so were our stresslevels. My aunt's daughter was still in her French village while their Spanish vacation location was unoccupied by them.

Then we heard that one of my mom's retired colleagues had just gotten back from the south of France. They had managed to drive the distance going from one tiny road to another dirt road. My mom and I were off to them to borrow their big stack of detailed maps that covered most of France. That night we decided to leave the next day as planned after all. What's the use of getting all stressed at home, waiting and hoping that those truckers get some sense back while we saw our vacation going by? We might as well spend that vacation stuck somewhere in France. In the news they announced that one road to the south was still without blockades: following the westcoast of France....the road to take to Portugal.

So early the next morning we took off: the car with extra picknick, a stack of maps 2 feet high, ...

We expected to get stuck before reaching the level of Paris, but we took the risk. Crossing the border in a small village in Belgium, we started circling from one village to another , carefully avoiding all bigger district roads. Every time we saw a big truck , our heart skipped a beat....

But it went well at the start and we started to relax a bit. It seemed like the smaller roads had been left alone and although we didn't proceed very quickly, we kept going south steadily.

After a couple of hours we were at the same height as Paris, much to our own surprise. We had beaten our own predictions. But the road was very still long and we had to be in Portugal the next day.

At one point in the afternoon when approaching Normandy, we saw a roadsign towards the freeway. "What the hell, I'm doing it", my dad said and much to our surprise we took the entry road on the highway. If any blockade would be on this road, we would not be able to leave it anymore. It was quite a risk to take. My heart was beating just a bit louder.

Apparently we were one of the rare ones to take this risk as this freeway was almost deserted. Finally at a good speed we could make some progress! We only didn't know how far we'd get.

Luck was on our side that afternoon though and around 7 PM we were just north of Bordeaux. We stopped on a big parking lot to have our dinner and we felt as if we had conquered the world. In our extatic mood we looked for a pay-phone and phoned my sister to make her guess where we were. She truly couldn't believe that we had made it that far without problems as the news about the traffic situation in France were still ominous.

As a matter of fact she could pull us back to reality by warning us that truckers were on its way to block the "Pont d'aquitaine", a major suspension bridge just north of Bordeaux where most traffic needs to cross. "Hurry hurry" she told us. If we didn't make it, we could be stuck for days, as our cousin still was on the other side of France.
With our stress levels back to a maximum, we quickly hurried back in the car and went off. And we crossed the bridge one hour before the blockade was raised on the bridge, a blockade which would last 5 days (when the French army finally started cleaning up the mess). Relieved and tired from the long day we were ready to look for the little hotel south of Bordeaux that my parents had in mind. But it wasn't meant to be.
While crossing the Landes there was all of a sudden a road block in front of us. Not a truckers road block. Nope, it was the police who had closed of the highway and was directing all cars onto an alternative road, probably preventing us all to actually get ourselves stuck in a real blockade. In a long long series of cars we seemed to continue on an endless road inland to the south-east. We had to go south-west, but could not figure out on which road we were travelling and we didn't dare to leave the big karavan of cars. There were plenty of forrests next to us, but hardly any villages to stop. So we drove and drove while we were desperately watchign the clock getting later and later. After quite a distance inland, we made a big turn and finally started going southwest again.
10 kms before the Spanish border, we finally reached the highway again and we crashed in our car to sleep on the first parking lot we saw. 10 more kms and we'd be out of the risk zone...although there had been rumours as well that the French would try to disturb the start of the Tour de France in San S├ębastien as well.
We didn't know yet that our adventures were not over yet.
If you want to read more soap opera stories, check out Brillig or walking kateastrophe, to find other participants.


This sounds like one of our vacations - we're good like that! ;-) I had to smile at the French blockades, because when ISN'T there some type of major labor issue in France? Yikes...

I hope your family made it. It sounds unbelievably nerve-wracking!
eddiefromohio said…
Volledig off topic maar ... een tijdje terug las ik dat je op zoek was naar bordjes om parkeerplaatsen vrij te houden zodat de aannemer de ramen kon steken (die geslaagd zijn btw). Die bordjes kosten inderdaad een fortuin in Leuven. De vorige keer hebben we het opgelost door drie auto's op een rijtje te parkeren. Nu gaat dat helaas niet lukken. Dus doe ik een long shot. Hebben je vrienden die bordjes nog steeds op overschot ? Het zou een wereld van verschil maken :-)
It is fascinating to me just to hear all the countries you traveled through as a kid just to go on vacation. In the US, that much driving and we'd still be in the US! It sounds like so much fun!
Luisa Perkins said…
Oh! I'm glad I don't have to wait long for the next episode. If I were your parents, I would have been STRESSED.
Shellie said…
Oh, that sounds like the bad dreams I have where you are trying to get somewhere and never seem to make it, glad I don't have to wait a week to hear more.

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