4 Spain North

 

Tuesday 11 February

A long day on the road to travel to San Sebastian in the Basque Region of Spain – brightened by the glorious flowers along the way: magnolia, daffodils, camellias, dark red blossom trees and wattle.

A cool, overcast day with light misty rain as we travelled; darkness was falling and the rain became heavier as we reached our destination. Finding our hotel became quite a challenge with increasing wrong turns and the GPS scrambling to keep up with the driver; in the end, John parked the car and walked to the hotel to find out where we had to go.

A light dinner and an early night after that marathon effort.

Wednesday 12 February

An overcast morning that cleared to a bright, sunny day as we walked the few blocks to Cathedral. The walk was through streets lined with magnolia trees; some with tightly closed buds and others had blooms well opened and the fragrance, while subtle, was a delight.

San Sebastian Cathedral is another massive house of worship and also quite different; lots of beautiful stained-glass windows that gave a golden hue to the interior. The main altar was quite simple with the side altars much more ornate. Once again it was good to sit and study the church in detail as well as reflect on our journey and life in general.

“The architect of the Cathedral, Manuel de Echave, was apparently inspired by Cologne Cathedral when he designed San Sebastian Cathedral; the dimensions of the church:

  • an area of 1,915 square metres
  • a nave height of 25 metres
  • a tower of 75 metres
  • a central nave of 64 metres long by 36 metres wide at the crossing
  • a capacity of 4,000 people

This is a church with a Latin cross, three longitudinal aisles, transept nave and a pentagonal sanctuary; there is no ambulatory and the two gables of the transept house two large rose windows that accentuate the light inside the church. The naves up to the crossing, of which the wider and the highest is the central, are segmented into five rectangular sections covered with four-parts vaults of simple ribbing.

The two arms of the transept consist of two sections arched in the same way. The crossing is the only section that features complex ribbing, incorporating tiercerons (gothic rib vaults) between the main veins. From the crossing to the head, the naves are extended with three sections. In this posterior space, the four aisles, two on each side, balance the width of the transept, resulting in two separate areas of equal height and divided into six sections separated by four pillars. The slender bell tower (currently under renovation) located on the portico of the entrance, is clearly inspired by the Cologne Cathedral. The set of pilasters and buttresses terminating in pinnacles and spirelets decorated with buds enhance the verticality of the building.”

I noted the lineal spanning arch supporting the organ landing, a very wide gap.        I studied the column for some time, there appears to be only one stone in each section as I could not see a join anywhere, the joints have a small wooden wedge to level them up while the lead joint settles. 

Over lunch we researched places to stay on our drive to Barcelona – the Pyrénées became the decision.

Armed with my bag of washing, I headed off to the beachfront to find a coin laundry that I had located on the net. There is a channel, which I expect would have been the old river, leading to the sea and I followed it for some distance taking photos of one of the crossing bridges which had 4 ornate pillars to show-off the bridge.

Arrived at the city centre and located the laundry which was no effort at all. When the washing was completed, I followed the channel to the sea entrance to be met by a massive swell and huge waves. As I moved along the shore there was the occasional wave that would crash over the rock wall and down the roadway. The roadway was blocked but I could see a number of people walking so I followed. There was evidence that the waves were much higher earlier in the morning and it would have been dangerous at that time.

The shoreline lead to an inlet that is the main beach for San Sabastian, with a lovely walkway around the shore and surrounded by apartments & hotels. After a few photos I headed back to the hotel to see if Gae felt like an evening stroll.

John returned from his walk (as well as doing the washing) at 5pm; after 15mins rest we walked down to the sea-front to watch the waves rolling into the seawall. With the high tide the waves rolled in at an angle giving rise to some great waves for surfers and kayakers to ride inside the sea-wall – crazy!

When it was too dark to see any longer, we walked across the road for dinner and then back to the hotel to pack ready to leave in the morning.

Thursday 13 February

We were up early so I was ready for a FaceTime Governance Committee Meeting.

After breakfast it was on the road again and heading to France and the Pyrénées. One thing we have missed travelling in Spain, Portugal and France – public toilets; quite often we were stopping at a restaurant, service station or McDonald’s to use their facilities because nothing else could be found.

The drive into France was on highway that was not very interesting, but from Oloron St Marie to Bedous was through mainly open country, lots of ploughed paddocks as far up the slopes as possible; very few cattle to be seen, I guess they are still indoors for the winter. We arrived at our hotel about 3pm – an old grey, granite building – formerly the railway station master’s residence that had been renovated to make it fit for purpose; a charming building with any wooden parts painted bright red which added to its appeal.

Once we carried our gear upstairs and unpacked, John fell asleep for a couple of hours and after a light dinner, it was an early night.

Friday 14 February

After breakfast we were offered the accessible room on the ground floor which I accepted with great relief – did not fancy climbing those stairs again if I didn’t have to. While we went for a drive, the hotel staff moved all our gear for us.

Early in the morning we drove up town to the visitors centre to gather some information on the area and while there we had a peep in the local church in the town square. I also noticed some prints between the arches on the wall of the local council building showing the rail lines through the valley.

Our day was filled with a drive to Accous to the supermarket and then up into the hills for a drive around some of the minor roads; hiking trails going off in every direction up here, some from 3 to 8hrs while others were given in days.

After a late lunch we spent a couple of hours on research and paperwork before having dinner at the hotel – a wonderful meal, delicious, fresh local produce and all freshly cooked. Edith, the owner was telling us they are well patronised – we saw this with the crowds in for lunch as well as dinner. The diners kept enjoying themselves until well after midnight.

Saturday 15 February

A clear, bright day without a cloud to be seen. We enjoyed fresh croissants and tea sitting in the sunlit breakfast room, overlooking the railway station – a small grey granite building that opens in time for the train to arrive and then depart half an hour later, six times per day; Bedous being the last stop before the train returns to Oloron St Marie. The local bus service collects passengers throughout the valleys and brings them to the train and then takes the incoming passengers to their destinations.

As we were not crossing the Pyrenees at this point, I wanted to drive up to the summit of the local mountains to witness the few peaks that were covered in snow. In years gone by the rail line continued up the valley with one loop to gain elevation before the final tunnel into Spain where there was a huge railway station built for the transborder passengers and freight. Like Bedous it has been abandoned and given way to trucks.

I climbed up what would have been the old pass over the mountain before the road tunnel but is still used for sight seeing and those accessing the higher peaks for skiing. Many people were hiking below the snowline and others had brought their children up for a play in the snow.

Right on the very top was a chairlift and road gang workshops before crossing the border into Spain. I elected to return at this point but found out from our hotel owners later that I should have gone down the Spanish side to view the old rail station and return home via the tunnel. Always wise after the event but I was able to see a lot in the afternoon.

When John returned from his excursion, we had a late lunch and then went for a drive to the medieval village of Borce a little further up the valley. A delightful place to stop and go for stroll along one of the three streets in this little hamlet; we stopped at the church.

“The small village of Borce (France) is located in New-Aquitaine area of the Aspe valley in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. There is documented evidence of people living in Borce at least since the fourteenth century. Agriculture has always been the main industry and being close to the Spanish border, it is subject to the Treaty of Bayonne of 1862 allowing some Spanish shepherds to graze their cattle on the territory of the municipality.

Today, Borce is largely focused on tourism, offering an interesting architectural heritage, as well as beautiful natural sites and is part of the area of ​​appellation of Cheese Ossau-Iraty (specialty of the Basque Country and Béarn, Ossau-Iraty is a traditional cheese from the Pyrénées; it is cylindrical and with a pressed, uncooked natural crust which varies from yellow-orange to grey in colour; made the old-fashioned way, from whole milk exclusively from three local sheep breeds).

The alleys of the village contain several houses from the 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 19th centuries as well as fortified houses of the 13th and 14th centuries, stables and old bread ovens.

Built in the 14thC and renovated in the 17thC, the church of Saint-Michel presents in its interior a beautiful black limestone font decorated with a scallop shell, a bumblebee and a bearded mask. Borce has indeed long been a stage of the camino aragonés, portion of one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela.

Created in 2004, the animal area of ​​Borce was the initiative of the municipality, following the closure of a first place of protection of the bears. There are several wildlife species preserved by volunteers.

Located between the plateau of Lhers and Borce, the pass of Barrancq is crossed by the GR10, a great hiking trail linking the Mediterranean with the Atlantic Ocean.”

Borce Town Hall

Sunday 16 February

The drive to Vielha was across the Pyrenees with the early miles through birch and pine forests in varying stages of logging. We saw lots of snow-topped peaks but did not drive close enough to say we were in the snow.

After a stop at Lourdes for lunch, the afternoon drive became a lot more scenic – up and down steep hills (one section being part of the 2016 Tour de France), closer to the snow and great views of villages perched on hillsides or on the valley floors alongside a river.

The weather was becoming warmer the further we travelled, reaching 21.50C when we arrived in Veilha after 4pm. There had been lots of traffic on the roads all day, particularly during the afternoon.

Our hotel was part-way up the hill heading north out of Veilha and our room was at the front of the hotel facing down the valley, around the ski fields that lined the valley. John and I sat on the balcony just watching the view, John drinking champagne and both of us eating strawberries (presents from the hotel) as well as cheese and biscuits. As darkness fell and the lights came on the scene took on a fairy tale appearance; enhanced even more by skiers gliding downhill with lights (possibly headlamps).

Monday 17 February

After breakfast, we spent the morning on paperwork, bookings and newsletter; we enjoyed a cup of tea on the balcony looking at the view as well as two helicopters coming and going. One could have been under instruction as it kept flying in, landing and then taking off again almost immediately.

Found this lady sitting on the steps of the restaurant.

We drove into town at lunchtime for a look around only to find all the shops (except the supermarket) closed from 1 to 5pm – they missed out on my money.

 

 

 

 

We went down to the hotel bar for a drink and dinner and were fascinated by the six-sided fireplace – the staff member was in the fireplace to light the fire. The photos will give you a better idea of what we saw.

A light dusting of snow overnight so I walked up the road to get a photo

On my return I took a photo of the hotel with the dining room on the right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 18 February

Awake and up early to participate in a board meeting and then on the road for a superb trip up and over the snowfields we had seen from our balcony at the hotel. A wonderful sight for miles; lots of skiers on the slopes as well as the various chairlifts. There was fog sitting on the high peaks and brilliant sunshine on the slopes for the skiers. We could see some snowmaking machines working on the lower slopes, but they did not appear to be needed up higher. Watching the angle of the chairlift to the highest slope and the speed of the skiers as they descended, it would be either an exhilarating or terrifying descent. Although the slope appeared to be nearly vertical from the roadway, it was probably not that bad.

A light dusting overnight

A really good frost around the edges

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good snow cover and skiing conditions as we pass over the summit at 2072mts, Not sure if the restaurant with the peaked roof was opening today. The cloud cleared as we started to descend the other side and provided a great view of the slopes.

As we drove up and over the pass, we were taken with the amazing stonework / rock walls that held the banks of the road or bridged the streams.

The drive down into the valley was quite picturesque, with villages dotted around the hills; many of the building looked as though they dated back several hundred years, some in good repair, others not so much.

 

Note the small villages over in the valley

The snow on the peak is where crossed the range

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our accommodation in Sallent looked rather dodgy from the outside but turned out to be a lovely little unit overlooking the river – a B&B with our host very keen to make sure we had everything we could possibly need for our overnight stay.

 

Wednesday 19 February

We had a delicious breakfast served in the sunroom – freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh and warmed baguette, a variety of cheeses, prosciutto, tomato and olives served with tea. We had our host and her husband chatting with us while we ate.

We were on the road into Barcelona by 9.30am. The mountains at Monserrat were amazing to see, so jagged with each peak standing as though separate from each other. We had no time to stop as we needed to return the car by 12md.

It was good that we had allowed plenty of time to reach the car drop-off point; the address put into “Maps” was proving inaccurate, mix that with several wrong turns and heavy traffic made for a challenging time. We were pleased to finally arrive at the correct location; I was not sorry to surrender that car, a dreadful ride in an uncomfortable car.

After a taxi ride to our hotel, we unpacked and relaxed while we had a welcome cup of tea before heading out to explore Barcelona. (I did manage to get a room with a view of the square and part of the cathedral)

We made it across the square to the Cathedral where we spent two hours with an audio-guide just listening, wandering, gazing, sitting and reflecting. Once again, the basic shape of the building was similar to other churches, but there any similarity ended. We even found some Christmas decorations in the Gift Shop.

   

After a drink and some dinner, we returned to the Cathedral for an organ recital – the music sounded marvellous in that huge space and we both thoroughly enjoyed that two hours.

Thursday 20 February

A day of exploring Barcelona with a Red Bus Tour, beginning with the Green Line to the Gaudi Museum. The walk from the bus stop up to the park and the Museum was the most challenging to date only to find the Museum was sold out, so we settled for a tour of the Gaudi house where we saw several examples of his work. Gaudi had lived in this house while designing the Sagrada Familia and during the early construction of the Basilica; he is buried in the crypt which was one of only two parts completed before his death in 1926.

We caught a taxi to the Basilica to be ready for our timed tour at 3.45pm – thank heavens we were 10mins early and were waved through before the horde of ticket holders came though the entry gate.

I walked around the block and discovered that this is the main entrance on the shady side.

As a church, the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia was totally different from any other we have visited on this trip; it is still under construction, due for completion by 2026 to commemorate the Centenary of Gaudi’s death. The audio-guide gave great detail and background to the various aspects of the church and its construction. There was not a lot of contemplation during our time in the church; we walked, sat, looked and listened but found many of the features at odds with each other and modernist in design, aspects of what we had seen in Gaudi’s house (or is that just our biases on what we think a Basilica should be?).

Gaudi was very interested in metal work

 

This is the exit on the southern side with more abstract sculptures

The Crypt was closed by the time we had finished with our tour, so went and had some dinner ready to return at 7pm when the Crypt was once again open. We toured through the space under the church and saw Gaudi’s grave; an inscription: “a real monument of faith by a man of faith”.

While we were in the Crypt it became dark and the lights were turned on to give us a different perspective.

We caught the last bus back to the city centre and walked the last part back to the hotel, very pleased to finally reach our room.

Friday 21 February

A clear sunny day for Day2 of the Red Bus Tour – this time the Orange Line. After the drive down to the waterfront past the Christopher Columbus Column and around the harbours (commercial and cruise ship) the bus began its trip up around the hills. We left the bus at the Miramar Hotel and caught the Gondola (Telefericos de Barcelona) out over the harbour to the peninsular, past the World Trade Centre and returned.

After lunch on the terrace at the hotel, we returned to the bus tour for the remainder of the trip – making sure to take some photos of Camp Nou (FC Barcelona) for Jake.

We were very impressed with the number of 19th century buildings with balconies and limited to around 7 levels, it is a most interesting city with many different architectural designs from traditional to Gaudi.

The walk back to the hotel was window shopping and walking down several smaller lanes just see to see what was there.

I had a hair-cut on my list for Barcelona and with some advice from the front desk, I headed west of the square for where I thought the barber would be. No luck but continued down dark narrow lanes of the old city in search of the St. Mary of the Sea Church near the harbour. After some assistance from a police officer I arrived in the square at the front of the church.

A different style again with a couple of rose windows to let in the light. I asked about climbing the tower and was told that they had conducted the last tour for the day and the next schedule was for 2pm tomorrow.

 

Walked to the east until I found the main street heading north and revisited my instructions and found the hairdresser on the opposite side of the street, I am still having directional problems. Job duly completed and back to the hotel for dinner.

Dinner in the hotel dining room and then waited till it was late enough to make phone calls to Australia – needless to say, that made for a late night

Saturday 22 February

After a late start, we walked around the corner to the shops; I lasted about an hour and decided that was enough while John had gone off looking for a power adaptor for the UK. A  late lunch of chicken, bacon and brie baguette and a cup of tea before John went off for a last walk in Barcelona. I sorted and packed ready for our flight tomorrow, alternating packing with watching a large, vocal rally out in the square. Apparently, people from the Dominican Republic now living in Barcelona, did not agree with a recent decision by the government on immigration. Our waiter at dinnertime did not have many kind words for the protestors nor their cause.

I decided to walk around the city and take some photos to enjoy my last opportunity in this beautiful city, Barcelona, Spain.

Firstly, I headed to the Arc de Triomf (the Spanish version of the famous Arc in Paris) as we had seen it on the Red Bus Tour, but I could not get a decent photo. It is a brick structure at the head of the park leading to the local Zoo. I moved around to the southern side and was able to capture a good photo for the web site. There were several light stands along the park and adjacent to the parliamentary buildings. There were lots of locals enjoying the sunny Saturday morning which is normal in this part of the world.

I walked down past the Zoo entrance towards the waterfront and came across the local railway station which has local & country trains as well as the fast train to France. There were several trains waiting to leave together with a model of the station.

Bikes of all kinds are used throughout the city as evidenced by the bike racks. Electrics are appearing in all forms, scooters, bicycles, motor type bikes & skateboards.

From the train station I walked to the waterfront, eager to capture some of the pleasure craft tied up to the piers. The big ones captured my attention of course. Someone sure has some spare cash and the largest one was flying a British flag. Café’s near a museum were doing a roaring trade in the bright sunshine.

Moving along the waterfront I headed to Christopher Columbus Column to take a better photo than I had from the bus trip, from there I walked to the next roundabout and headed in a north easterly direction to capture and examine the old bull ring that had been renovated into a shopping centre.

 

 

 

 

 

A most interesting architectural project which I am sure presented many problems. Consider this, take an old bull ring, clear out all the structure on the inside, cut it off at ground level, jack it up 3 metres and place a new set of foundations underneath without cracking the walls. Then dig a hole five stores deep and create a shopping centre / theatre complex/food hall, then build another five stories on top with a number of restaurants and a viewing platform around the outside and a semi attached lift to take viewers to the top level. I asked the ticket office the price and was advised because of my AGE there was no charge, not often I get a win for being older.

I was feeling a bit jaded by this time and elected to catch a Taxi home which cost 10,00 Euro so it was some distance. When I got back to the hotel, I checked my phone and it said that I had walked over 12kms for the day.   

Sunday 23 February

Up early and checked out of the Hotel Colon;  the hotel was centrally located and offered great service.

On the way home I took this photo of our hotel with the protesting crowd in the square.

This clock was in the foyer of our hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This completes our Spanish/Portuguese six week vacation that has been a most pleasant experience.

A total of 3300 kms in 32 days was easy driving.

We now fly to the UK for three months.