In August 1999, Fliss & I took our first holiday together in Salou in Northern Spain. For two weeks we ate badly and sparingly, having taken a self-catering package deal with Thompsons to cut costs. Ironically, we spent a small fortune on food & drink over those 14 days, but ultimately enjoyed the experience.
When we were searching for a holiday to take over easter this year, we stumbled upon Eurocamp Cambrils, near Salou, and thought it would be cool to come back and visit the area again. We knew the weather would be decent, and probably not as searingly hot at this time of year as it was when we went in late summer. We also knew the rough layout of Salou, and that the beaches were long & sandy.
Having gained two children since we last went, it was also an added bonus that the flight from Glasgow is just two and a half hours. Eurocamp Cambrils is a little further out of Salou itself than we would have liked, but it is within (long) walking distance and is more suited for families. We quite enjoyed staying in the self-contained resort in Fuerteventura last year, too, so Eurocamp seemed like a good fit.
So, what follows is a detailed account of the highs and lows of our first holiday as a family of four. For those of you who want the short version: it was a mixed bag, but ultimately good fun!
With the resort taken care of, we booked a direct flight out of Glasgow with Thompsons. Their 7am on Saturday morning departure was as good as we were going to get, as there is only one flight each week from Glasgow to Reus, so from the moment I booked it I knew it would make for a long day.
That’s exactly how it turned out in practice, but despite the 3am start things went pretty smoothly, with the only miss-step being that we followed the wrong road in the maze of an industrial estate on the way to Airparks to drop off the car. It was pitch dark and there are no sign posts to speak of until you arrive at the place, but it only cost us five minutes and we were dropped at the airport by 05:15.
Breezing through security and buying some food on the way to the gate, it was about as clean an airport run as you can get with two kids in tow.
The flight itself was uneventful, aside from a wee bit of turbulence. I tried to get some sleep on the way, but it was an old, cramped plane and the seats weren’t very comfortable at all. The flight crew tried their best to sell things to their captive audience, and brought the in-flight movie to a flickery pause a few times to make announcements in that vein. It came as more of a surprise to me that VHS players were still used on aeroplanes than it did that Channel would not be supplying their perfumes for in-flight sale for much longer.
The flight was over with soon enough though, and Reus Airport is so small that we were through passport control and at the luggage carousel in no time. Unfortunately it was here that our troubles began. A combination of tiredness and being distracted played a part in me grabbing the wrong case off the carousel. It was identical to the one we’d packed all the kids clothes in, so I never thought to check the labels. I passed it back to Fliss and she too thought nothing of it, and stuck it on our trolley.
Coincidentally, an old lady took one of our other cases by mistake and Fliss had to get it off her. I checked the label on that one before I put it on the trolley – if only I’d done that with the kids’ case!
Arriving at the resort by taxi, we stuck our luggage in storage until we could have our bungalow. The receptionist apparently made the preparation of ours a priority, but it was another five hours before we finally got the keys. It was only once we retrieved the luggage and started unpacking that we realised we had the wrong case.
Asking our reception to call the Calypso Hotel, where the lady whose luggage we had was staying, it seemed that she had our case and it would only be a matter of exchanging the two. We were led to believe that this might happen as soon as that evening, but nothing came of it and we went to bed stuck in holiday limbo until the matter was resolved.
By late in the following morning it was obvious that nothing much was getting done to solve the problem by the Thompsons rep’ at the Calypso Hotel. So we took the proactive step of heading off there on the other side of Salou with the case. The reason being that neither Elisha or Jason had any other clothes until we got their case back, and as we were so close to the weight limit on the way out, we didn’t want to just buy them more clothes.
Despite Fliss’ estimate of “about 20 minutes”, it was a hell of a walk there, I can tell you. We crossed a train track, traipsed for miles along the walkway by the beach, trudged from the centre of Salou through what can only be described as the ghetto of the city, before we arrived at the Calypso Hotel to find the lady in question was out at a bar watching the football.
We sat in the bar of her hotel until she turned up about an hour later. Julie, as her name turned out to be, did not have our case at all, having left it at the airport under the instruction of Matt, the Thompsons rep. Matt had said that he would pay for a taxi to get her case from our resort to the Calypso Hotel, but now that we’d carried the package for him he was unwilling to contribute to a taxi fare to take us back.
I wasn’t particularly shocked by this, but the attitude of Matt was appalling. “You’re flight only, you’re not my problem.” He said to both Julie and Fliss. The fact we were all Thompsons customers did not gain any favour either; “Write in if you like, but I don’t care, you’re flight only so I don’t have to help you.”
He was probably right. He didn’t have to help us, but I’m not convinced that should have stopped him from helping an exhausted family of four get back to their hotel after doing the right thing by one of his guests, who wasn’t flight only.
In the end, Julie gave us €20 towards our taxi back to the resort and for the taxi to bring our luggage from the airport to the same destination. This was exceptionally nice of her, considering it wasn’t her fault, but she insisted on helping after the way Matt had treated all parties concerned, as he’d also misled her on when her luggage would be returned.
An hour or so later we were €35 worse off and reunited with the case back at our bungalow in the resort. Sunday was gone, for the most part, so we stayed in the bungalow having a few drinks whilst Elisha played with the children of an Irish family next door that we’d got talking to. Losing a day didn’t seem all that important now that we had the kids clothes back, and on Monday the holiday could properly begin.
Unfortunately it rained pretty much the whole day on Monday, only drying up in the late evening. We made the best of it during the day by sitting in the resort bar trying to get our holiday vibe going, and explored the other pool area during a break in the rain.
This led to Elisha & I taking the plunge into the freezing water of said pool via a water slide, then going for a brief swim about it with the notion that it wouldn’t feel so cold once we got used to it. In short; that was bollocks, and soon enough we trudged back to the bungalow, shivering like mad until we were in the warm shower. After that experience, I wasn’t going back in any of the pools unless the sun was shining.
We went back to the bar for the rest of the evening, having dinner there and taking pictures of the resort as dusk fell. Elisha and I played some air hockey to while away the time until we thought the children’s disco was on, but a waitress informed us that they were only held on weekend nights. Elisha was really disappointed, and it was more of a shame that she’d passed up the chance to go the night before in favour of playing with the kids next door.
As we made our way back to the bungalow, Elisha forlornley remarked “this is a rubbish holiday.” To that point it was hard to argue with her.
Tuesday would begin overcast, before finally delivering some of the weather we’d been hoping for, and we spent the whole afternoon sunning by the pool. Elisha & Fliss would go in despite the cold water, but I was still wary after the day before, so I did what I do worst; relax in a sun lounger.
I really am rubbish at that most simple task. I can’t help but look around every few minutes, bored from the tedium of enforced relaxation. I spend so much of the year wishing for good weather so I can get out and enjoy doing stuff like mountainbiking that it’s torturous for me to just lie there when the sun is shining.
Try as I might, I couldn’t just zone out and enjoy the sun, and found myself thinking of code I wanted to write for IndyCar Fan Zone. My laptop was back in the bungalow and the idea of grabbing it and working away in the bar was seriously tempting! It wasn’t what the holiday was supposed to be about, though, so I stayed myself and managed to make it through the afternoon.
We headed back to the bungalow as an ominous looking cloud blocked the sun, arriving just as large drops of rain began to hit the ground. The rumbles of thunder were but a preview of the next three hours, where a huge lightening storm would rage around the area. The rain that came with it was torrential, quickly causing pools of water to form before a fast little river made its way by on the way down the hill.
When the rain eased, Fliss went off to take pictures of the lightening strikes, while Elisha took turns at watching the original Battlestar Galactica pilot on my laptop with me and wandering over to see her friends next door on the last night of their own holiday.
It was sad that they were leaving the next morning, as Elisha had become quite fond of Eva, the youngest girl. We hoped that a new family might take their place, but their bungalow remained empty for the remainder of the week.
The storm cleared the skies considerably, leading to an almost cloudless sky on the Wednesday. Having lunch at the bar, we spent the rest of the day by the main pool. This wasn’t quite as cold as the other one, but still took some getting in to. Even so, all of us made it in at some point – even Jason, who seemed to quite enjoy floating around.
Elisha managed to get into difficulties attempting to swim over to join him at one point, and was pulled to the side by a lifeguard who jumped in to help her. I had looked over her way moments beforehand and it didn’t look like she was struggling to me, and Elisha said after that she wasn’t sure why she’d been rescued, but I suppose the lifeguards play it safe with this kind of thing.
When the trampolines opened up after the siesta break, I took Elisha over and ended up going on them with her. It was €2 for ten minutes, but as it wasn’t busy the guy in charge let her stay on for over 30 minutes whilst we chatted about the resort.
He told me he’d heard that the camping area was being replaced by more bungalows for 2012 and that the resort was going to open all year instead of mid-April to mid-October. If that’s the case, they might want to come up with more indoor activities or look into heating the pools at the very least. When it had rained all day on Monday, the half dozen arcade machines and pair of air hockey tables hadn’t really cut it for long in terms of family entertainment.
Elisha and I took icecream back for Fliss, and then we all headed to the bungalow to get freshened up before heading back to the bar area.
Barcelona were playing Real Madrid in the Champions League and they had the game on the large projector screen. We sat outside to escape the noise, although I watched through the glass doors and popped in occasionally to see how things were going. It seemed that most people were Barcelona fans – understandable considering our proximity to the city. I fell into that camp, too, after seeing some blatant dirty play from Real Madrid. With Barcelona winning 2-0 it made for a good atmosphere in the bar to end the night, which we finished up playing pool.
On Thursday we set off on almost the same route as Sunday’s quest to return the case, but with the intention of spending some time on the beach and letting Elisha have some fun at the play areas dotted along the sea side.
We ended up at the market area we’d visited a few times back in 1999, although it seemed quieter in comparison. I initially put this down to it being early in the season, but got talking to a guy named Adrianos, who was handing out leaflets for a pizza restaurant, and he told me that the rise of Port Aventura had really hurt the town. He said that you could get a night in a room at the Port Avantura resort for the same price as it cost for a family meal in town, so many of the businesses had suffered. He explained that peak season had been four or five months back in the 90’s, whereas it was now just July to August.
When we’d gone to the theme park in 1999 it didn’t have any hotels, but Adrianos said Port Aventura was four times the size now and he called it “New Salou”, while the town was “Old Salou” where people just came for the beach.
I didn’t think the town looked that different from what I remembered, but we’d only really spent time in the main area by the esplanade. I can see how the area I thought was like the ghetto might once have been a busy stretch of shops during the boom times, but would have quickly fallen from grace when the downturn hit – especially if Port Aventura had been leeching more and more visitors from the town.
I don’t know if it was my imagination, but I don’t think I saw as many adverts for the theme park around town as I had back in 1999. Whether it was because Port Adventura had gone from being a reason to visit Salou to a destination in its own right, I don’t know, but it’s obvious the relationship is no longer as symbiotic as it once was.
After our wander round the market we hit the beach, where I tried to sun bathe/relax once again. It wasn’t really happening, though, as I was nervous about getting burnt after a full five hours in the sun. Elisha enjoyed playing in the sand and on the play area, while Fliss wandered around taking pictures.
We took it easy on the long walk back, with Elisha riding on the buggy board after having her second milk tooth fall out while eating an apple.
When it came to crossing the train track, I took advantage of Fliss’ new found talent for interpretting Spanish railway signals and while she directed from a nearby bridge, I found a spot to take pictures of the train when it came by. I figured there would be quite an air blast as it passed, and the reality was that yes; there was, and then some!
It took a bit of will power not to bolt as it closed in, and I was sure the driver would sound the horn and scare the crap out of me. In the event he didn’t have to – the noise of the train on the track and the wind blast were enough to knock me off balance. Got a couple of decent shots, though, and it’s quite cool that the family are visible on the bridge down the line.
After showering at the bungalow we went for a couple of drinks at the bar to find that a Cuban style singer was performing cover versions of hits from the last few decades. During the interval the animacion team led a dance session for kids, which Elisha had loved in Fuerteventura, so it was great that she finally got to dance of an evening.
When the Cuban guy came back on he stumbled his way through a few more songs, and although I’ll forgive him for missing out some words from All Night Long because he nailed the crowd-pleasing chant section, he then went and spoiled it by finishing on Sinatra’s My Way. It’s a nice song, but just about killed the party vibe he’d been building up during his second set.
With the party over, we called it a night. Or at least we tried to. Elisha and Jason kept us awake for most of it by taking turns at having coughing fits. By the time I realised Elisha’s coughing was hay fever related it was closing in on 2am and it was a while after that before the Clarityn kicked in for her.
Even assuming Jason’s cough was due to hay fever, we had no anti-histamine for infants, so it was just a matter of giving him lots of water and letting him cough it out.
We woke on the final day of our holiday to an overcast sky that matched the tired mood. With the weather letting us down it seemed like our time in Spain would end on a bit of a low note, but the evening would perk up somewhat when we got talking to an Irish family that had just arrived.
Sitting round their patio table we told stories and enjoyed some drinks while the kids played together. To finish off the night we hit the bar and played pool, with Elisha demonstrating quite the knack for potting balls despite not being able to hold the cue properly.
We called it a night a bit later than intended, as our taxi to the airport was booked for 9am. Fliss got up early to ensure that everything was packed up, though, and we were ready to leave the Cambrils resort right on time.
Typically it was a beautiful day, and such a shame to waste our last few hours in Spain cooped up in Reus Airport. Ah well, four days out of seven had been good to us.
The flight home was pretty uneventful until the final 20 minutes, when we experienced quite a bit of turbulence. The 747 lurched around a lot as we began our final descent, and when we were coming into land it was all over the place. I’m sure we were no higher than the height of a double decker bus when I looked out of the window by Elisha and commented that it might be a call-off, because the speed and angle we were coming in at just looked wrong.
We sailed tantalisingly close to the ground for a few seconds before the pilot aborted the landing, gunned the engines, and we climbed steeply back into the skies over Glasgow. It was nervy stuff, with even the stewardess sitting nearby saying it had not happened to her before.
The pilot explained that we’d been hit by a sudden side wind of 40-50mph just before landing, and rather than hit the runway hard he’d decided to abort and try again. My sister’s father in law would later tell us he “saw a plane going the wrong way over Glasgow” when he’d been driving home from the city that afternoon. Yep, that was us!
After a free tour of a wonderfully sunny Glasgow and an equally bumpy second attempt at landing, punctuated by the frequently vomiting toddler in the row behind us, we were on the ground.
It was a relief to have the flight behind us, and with the weather sticking around for another few days it felt like we got a little extension to the holiday before I had to go back to work.
I’d say our first holiday as a family of four went quite well, in the event. If anything it was good practice for the next time we jet off in search off good weather. Hope it’s soon and I hope there’s more sun, next time.