Friday, 14 December 2018

Yellow Rebels

Yellow vest demonstrators
at a road toll station in France.
“Are they honking at us?”, we wondered, at a French road toll station. They have really narrow lanes, so driving through requires caution with our combination. The honking came from the  other side of the road. There was a large group of people standing on and blocking the lanes. They all had yellow vests. Trucks were honking at them. To warn them, to vent frustration or to show support? No idea. “Yellow vests” were demonstrating against high petrol prices. We had read the news about the riots in Paris. Now the demonstrations had spread all over France and to our route to Barcelona.

Teenage Burglar

I found a website with a map of France showing the known sites of these demonstrations. There were several on our route. We had planned to stay overnight at a motorway rest stop. Some of them, especially the ones with a gas station, were occupied and closed by “yellow vests”. We drove through France until very late and finally parked next to some trucks at a rest stop. These motorway “Aires” have toilets, even showers and sometimes some snack machines.

Looks ok, but just did not work...
Our plan was to have a quick dinner, go to sleep and continue on in the morning but we couldn’t get into our caravan. The door handle was broken. It had shown some symptoms of not-working-properly during the year, and now decided to quit working. I got a flashback to the moments when I had lost my keys during my schooldays and was standing in front of our home door with desperate thoughts.

We had some small metal poles for the awning. With those and a teaspoon we tried to force the door open. After ten minutes, a truck driver came to offer help. He thought the lock was frozen and offered some spray. When he understood what the problem was, he just wished us good luck. The task seemed impossible. All of a sudden we heard Väinö’s voice from the other side of the caravan: “Mum, Dad, the kitchen window is now open, if you are interested…” Our twelve year old had used one metal stick to open the window hatches (even if we had told him not to).

We pushed Väinö into the caravan through the small window. He opened the door from inside and our night was saved. I thanked our teenager for not obeying his parents this time.

Turning Point

During the board game event DAU Barcelona, we stayed at a Camping 3 Estrellas, just by the sea. It was also right next to the airport. For the first 3 days we just heard waves crashing on the beach. Then, I guess, the wind changed direction and airplanes took off right over us. Anyhow, we didn’t find that noise disturbing. After 10 hours at a fair, you sleep almost instantly no matter how many jets fly over you.

DAU is the biggest board game event in Spain. We saw many familiar faces among the Spanish resellers and game designers. It was also great to see Inka and Markus Brand, who were guests of honor this year. “These are the crazy Finns!” they introduced us to their Spanish host. We met also other Finns. Quite a lot of Finns move to live in Spain, at least for the winter time. After spending over a month in Spain this year, I totally understand. It’s an enjoyable country with good food and low prices.

For us, Barcelona was the turning point. Our tour ended, no more fairs, just the long drive home. I watched the sun rising from the sea. A scene I will not see again for a long, long time. It was a moment of conflicted feelings: sad, relieved, proud, amazed and wistful.

Morning sun at the turning point.

Yellow Ribbons

On our way back we drove to a caravan repair shop to get the door handle fixed. Väinö had been climbing through the window every evening to let us in. It was clearly not a longterm solution. The roads had some weird lane markings: yellow circles with two tails, like ribbons. At first I thought they were some warnings for roundabouts, but there were no roundabouts. Then I saw the railings on a bridge covered with yellow ribbons. I finally understood: we were in Catalonia and the yellow ribbon became a political symbol there in November 2017. Obviously, the opinions were still strong.

Our door handle was fixed, even though we arrived at the garage just before their siesta. I gazed at the amazing scenery, framed by mountains. During our stay in Barcelona, the Pyrenees had become covered in snow. The winter was coming, and we were heading north. At home, there would be a proper, white winter.

Bon Voyage!

We had to drive through France, again. Yellow vest demonstrators had blocked many exits. We saw police cars and warnings on the road information signs. We approached another road toll station. Every entry was manned by people in yellow vests. We stopped and carefully opened our window to talk with a man standing next to the payment machine.

“Good day, do you have your ticket?” he asked.
Timo gave him the toll ticket. He took it and smiled.
“Have a nice trip!”
We were a bit confused. The traffic lights at the toll were red, but all barriers were open. I had read on the news that these demonstrators want to let people drive for free. So we just drove (and saved 55€).

There was a quiet moment in the car.
“We just participated in French civil disobedience.”
“Yeah. One more thing to remember from this year.”

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