The Pyrenees

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Coming back after three months of travelling in South America, it was a bit harder than expected to get into the normal life again. The restlessness in me really caught my thoughts, and my mind slipped more than once back to travelling. Not that I don't have a good life here in Mo i Rana, but beeing thrown back into the dayly routines was brutal! :) I had to do something, and  the constitution day (17th of May) was accompanied with a couple of public holidays this year. So the time was set, but where I did not know. Time and budget wasn't going to make this a very far journey. First step was to find a cheap airline ticket to London from Trondheim. Norwegian had good offers there, and further on I planned to use RyanAir. A very good alternative from Stanstead, and lots of destinations. A couple of days before departure the desition was made. A ticket was booked for Bayonne in France, and the return was booked from Montpellier. I was going to the Pyrenees! A mountainrange streching from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea, where it separates France and Spain. The plan was to zigzag this range during the five days. Not really me having such a tight schedule, but this was all I could get then.

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Day 1 Bayonne

Good to be on move again. My car was waiting for me at the airport, and I soon set course for Bayonne. Am driving a Peugot 206 this time. Got here quite early and found a place to stay rather quick. DSCF0007.JPG (54257 bytes)Parked the car, and first stop was the Irish pub and a pint of the black stuff. Life is good! Bayonne is a very nice small city in the french part of the Basque country. Quite as I imagined it would be, with narrow streets, many bridges and smiling people. But not many people speaking english. Also quite as expected. :)  The weather is quite nice too in spite of some clouds. The church here is also worth mentioning. According to the Lonely Planet guide they started constructing it in the 12th century. It is an impressive building, especially thinking of its age. It strikes me that even the smallest place have an oversized church in these catholic countries. Religion is obviously a bigger part of the life here.
The day was used wandering the narrowed streets, observing people while eating some solid french food, which I am not really sure what was, and writing in my diary. Life is good!
It is funny how foreign places and people get your mind going. The routine life back home is suddenly far far away, and the good philosophic travelmode is sinking into me! Life is indeed good!!


Day 2 Small towns, big towns

First real driving day today. Set sail for the Pyrenees, and Spain after some more wandering around the streets of Bayonne. Saturday today and it was a very lively market going on by the riverside.
Seeing the Pyrenees in the distance I drove thruogh many idyllic villages, and I had of course to stop in one of them. St. Jean-Pied-de-Port is close to the spanish border, and many people start their long walk for Santiago de Compostela here. It must be the most famous pilgrim route, at least in Europe. The proper name for the route is Camino de Santiago de Compostela, and it is an enduring 700-800 kilometres walk.  This might be on my list over things to do when I get old and retire from work. People here are very proud of their basque connection, and symbols can be seen everywhere. It felt like the right place to buy a souvenir.
DSCF0030.JPG (41508 bytes) After a while the course was set for Pamplona. Famous for its bullruns during the Fiestas de San Fermin, and also a part of the Camino. Getting there meant first crossing of the Pyrenees. This is not the highest part of the range, but still it takes you above 1000 metres. Don't know if I ever have been driving this high before actually. Not counting bus rides across the Andes of course.
Arrived in Pamplona during the siesta. It had to be early siesta because the traffic was chaotic. At least from my standards! :)  But I managed to struggle my way to the very centre of the city, honking and waving with my arms out of the window in south european style, and parked the car beneath the main square. Not going to drive anymore today!  And most of all I have to remember that I will be 30 years old today! Not the worst place on earth to celebrate here, and also saturday here as well!
After wandering around the city during the siesta, I went to the tourist office and got a list over places nearby to stay. Also got in touch with a pilgrim doing the camino. He had his day off from the walk. We had a bite of food together and I got to hear stories from the camino. It's a very impressive walks, and shall of course be done with sandals, backpack and a walking stick!
Pamplona is a very lively town, at least on saturdays, but a fact is that not many people here either talk english. Quite amazed that I actually picked up that much spanish in South America as I have. Even if they don't always understand my argentine dialect! :) As a norwegian talking in a kind of argentine dialect, you become quite exotic, even in Spain. Ended up with a small crowd of locals, that spoke a bit english, and had a real fun time, exploring some of the pubs in Pamlona. Perfect strangers, for a perfect birthday!


Day 3 Disney world??

Really felt my old age this morning! aiaiai.... Hadn't expected it to kick in that soon! :) Luckyly I had the room until noon this day! After getting my old limbs moving again, and the alcohol out of my body I said good bye to Pamplona. DSCF0008.JPG (52769 bytes) And instead of going north I headed south for the real countryside of Navarra. At least that was the direction until I came to Tafalla, a nice town on a lazy sunday. After a quick lunch here I went east and north again, and drove through a really beautiful landscape with some truly amazing villages with very narrow rocky streets. San Martin de Unx, Larga and sevaral more. And most of them had a more or less ruined church or castle which the village was built around. Some of the places seemed like the time had completely stopped a hundred years ago! After a while the road started to climb up again towards the Pyrenees, and the border was crossed for the second time. On the way I had a stop at Lumbier and walked around the falls there. Not really any falls to speak of, but the very short canyon had lots of birds of prey circling over it. I guess the food was all the pigeons living on the cliff walls.
First taste of some real mountainroad today as well. The road across had curves and curves upon curves. Real fun to drive, and before I knew it I was in Lourdes. Catholicism and saint-worshipping really takes off here. The whole city lives of selling souvenirs, everything from empty waterbottles to giant crusifixes.
A young girl had a lot of visions of the virgin Mary at the grotto here in the mid 1800's. The short story is that the girl became canonized to St. Bernadette, the grotto and the spring there became holy, and believed to have healing powers. And a huge cathedral was built on the sight.
And what a cathedral....Came inside the front gate and woow.... First thing that stroke my mind was: am I in Disneyworld??! It really seemed like taken out of a Disney fairytale, with the banners on the long front lawn, and all the outside stairs, the towers and spires, and the gold decoration. I would not have been surprised if there had been any knights on horses in shiny armours there, and a king and a queen on the balcony with a beautiful princess!
Thousands and thousands visits this over-the-top monument every day, and today was no exception. People were praying for miracles and hoarding water from the holy spring. I walked a bit around in this frenzy, looking at people carrying away more holy water than they really managed. Some even came with wheelbarrows. People got taken their pictures in front of the church, for small fee of course.
DSCF0063.JPG (55278 bytes)  The cathedral didn't really give me any religious enlightnings, nor did I see any miracles. To me I was more amazed about the fairytalestructure, than the religious importance this place have to many people. Religion play a major role in many peoples lifes, and I have to respect that too. You can easily spend a day walking around and inside the church, and it is absolutely worth it. I did of course also bring back a sample of the water from the holy spring! :) Nice gift!  Lourdes is not the biggest town, but it really draws a lot of visitors. Not many good pubs here though, but good pilgrims, I guess, have better things to do. The fortress of the city is a nice alternative to the church. By far not as busy, and you get some nice views from the towers. And of course the town centre is nice for a stroll, as soon as you get away from the main street.


Day 4 More mountains and villages

Left Lourdes after another visit to the cathedral, and aimed for the Pyrenees again. Life is good! Today the roads and the small villages were the main attractions again. Narrow roads fit for my personal Rally Pyrenees. Roads twisting and turning over the mountain, around house corners in  the scattered villages. The small mountain towns really impressed me again. DSCF0079.JPG (64885 bytes)Houses hanging in the hills. Stone houses, some partly in ruins, and always a church and/or a small hill fortress. The day was mostly used for driving, and just admiring the landscape. Crossed the border for third time and ended up in a town called el Pont de Suert. Life is indeed good, sitting here in this town philosophying about life in a small restaurant. The scattered restaurants here seem to be full of life, and it strikes me that almost everywhere else in the world people tend to be more outgoing than in Norway. We have a different culture for sure. No place like home! :) We are indeed a strange breed!


Day 5 Andorra and Narbonne

Constitution day was celebrated with no less than four bordercrossings. As usual the Pyrenees was the main goal of the day. Raced through a dozen more small idyllic villages and set course for the tiny country Andorra. For a small country they really got huge traffic jams! Spent hours in queues here, before I found a small sideroad, and took a sightseeing in the higher parts around the capital, Andorra la Vella. The weather was turning colder and the snow fell lower and lower in the mountains. But I managed to also spend some time in the capital before it started to snow there as well. After stocking up on very affordable single malt whisky, I headed further north in the country. As the road got higher the snow got more and more intense, and soon there also was a slush on the road as well. Just like home! :) After a while with visibility less than ten meters I started to descend down from the mountains again, crossed the border into France, turned south, briefly flew over spanish soil again, took highway N116 towards the Mediterranean and said goodbye to the Pyrenees for this time. The landscape swiftly changed, and so did the weather. Driving through green fields in more and more sunny weather. DSCF0099.JPG (40837 bytes)And suddenly I could see the ocean in the far distance. The drive ended in the beautiful town of Narbonne. Enjoyed the sun here, and actually ended up in a karaokebar. Usually I really keep a good distance to such places, but this was special. Jean-Paul a man maybe in his late sixties/early seventies complete ruled there! Good to know such people exists! The last night on french soil for this time was spent discussing meaning of life, with Jean-Paul singing old classics in the background. Santé!

Day 6 The Mediterranean Sea

After enjoying the sun in walking around in beautiful Narbonne, I had to start thinking about my flight that was leaving from Montpellier. Wanting to feel saltwater between my toes I didn't bother to stop in the city, but raced for the beaches. Driving in dense snow and subzero temperatures yesterday, I didn't really imagine that I was going to walk on a sunny beach in almost thirty degrees! I ended up in the town called la Grande Motte. Obviously a place with a lot money circulating. The forest of masts standing up from multimillion yachts at the harbour there didn't really conceal the fact. The casino wouldn't even let me inside the building! With the luck I usually have in these places, it might have been a good thing for me! :) Anyway the weather was far to good to spend inside a casino, no matter how fancy it might be. Soaking the sun until the very last minutes I sadly had to leave the summer and fly back home again. At least to Stanstead. Stayed at The Bushel and Sack Hotel, which is really recomendable. Huge rooms, the price was affordable and best of all, transport to and from the airport was included.

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