Carry le Rouet to Aix en Provence

This morning the owner of the guest house we were staying in drove us to the train station. We caught a train to Marseille and then changed trains for Aix en Provence. 

Many of the train stations in France have had pianos for people to play. 

In Marseille I saw something I have never seen before, a pedal powered charging station. 

In Aix we are staying with the wonderful family that Allison lived with when she studied in France. On the way to their house we walked through the old center of Aix and stopped for lunch. We ordered mussels with a Roquefort sauce and a salad Nicoise. They were both wonderful. There were about 50 mussels in the mussel bucket. 

As I mentioned a few days ago, my iPhone has been acting up. They have an Apple Store in Aix. I made an appointment for 5pm for the Genius Bar. It turns out my screen problem is a known problem. It cost me €155 to get a new phone and it took a couple of hours to get set up but I’m back in business. 

Barcelona, Spain to Arles, France

We decided to get an early train out of Barcelona this morning. Our train left at 7:20. We changed trained in Nimes and got to Arles at around 1:30.  This is Duke’s first trip to France. It is his second new country of this trip. 

This is in many ways the beginning of phase two of our trip. We are out of Spain and of course don’t have a car any more. It also means I don’t have Duke’s fluent Spanish to rely on. I speak a bit of French but nothing like Duke speaks Spanish. 

When we got to Arles we were standing looking at a big map outside the train station when an American behind us asked us where we were from. We told him and asked him the same. He said near Sacramento. He said when he had to evacuate because of the Oroville Dam situation he decided he might as well head to France!

From the train station we walked to our hotel which is a bit out of the center of Arles. After resting some we walked around the old town.  Arles is on the Rhone River. They have an enormous Roman Arena and a ruined Roman Theater. In addition Vincent Van Gough began living in Arles in 1888 and painted more than 200 paintings here. Although none of them are still in Arles there are plaques all over Arles showing where some of Van Gough’s famous paintings were painted. 

For dinner we shared a cheese and charcuterie sampler. After that we tasted a few more cheeses. They were all incredibly good. 

Barcelona Day 2

Barcelona is an amazing city. Today we did the hop on hop off bus tour of the city. It made me realize that there is so much to do here that I could spend another week or two here and still not see everything I want to see!
We started out the day with coffee and a croissant. Then we started the bus tour. Our first stop was at  Gaudi’s Basilca de La Sagrada Familia. They started work on the Basilica in the 1800’s and they are still working on it!

As we were walking around the Basilica it was fun to see a bunch of people playing a game, maybe lawn bowling? All the balls seemed to be made out of iron. Many people had ribbons with magnets on them so they could pick up the balls without bending over. 

After Sagrada Familia our next stop was the Park Güell. We got off the bus and walked up to the look out.  Gaudi had a home here for many years. 

The tour had two loops, the blue loop and the red loop.  After completing the blue loop we had a beer and pizza lunch. 

We learned on the tour that Barcelona has more motorcycles and mopeds than any other town in Spain. 

I thought this shop where you could have a three-D image of yourself printed was pretty cool. 

And I thought this ad in the main square for flights from Oakland direct to Barcelona on Norwegian Air was pretty amazing too. 

The rest of the tour took us past all the Olympic sights, the harbor, and the exhibit halls where the giant Mobile World Congress (MWC17) will be held this week. As I said it all made me realize how much there is to see and do in Barcelona. 

We had originally hoped to spend three nights in Barcelona but the Mobil World Congress which is the biggest conference of  mobile devices in the world meant that hotel rates were hiked through the roof starting Sunday night. So we will catch a train to France in the morning. 

We had another wonderful dinner tonight. We went to L’Antic Bicol Del Gòtic and shared salad, appetiser, main course, dessert and coffee. With a bottle of wine the whole meal cost us €70. 

Andorra to Barcelona

We got a fairly early start this morning on our drive to Barcelona. We wanted to return our car by 12:30 to avoid paying for another day. It rained all the way from Andorra to Barcelona. Then we spent an hour driving in circles in heavy city traffic trying to find the rental car place. Finally we parked and walked a long way on foot in the rain and finally found it. I was soaked but we did get the car back in time. 

Our hotel is in the Gothic Quarter. We had a fun time exploring this afternoon. 

For dinner we ate pasta and empanadas at a lovely little restaurant with only five tables. 

Then we went for a stroll down La Rambla. We have seen and heard a lot more English speakers here than anywhere else we have been. We also notice a lot more young people than anywhere else, and noticeably more smokers. 

Andorra Day 2

For the first time since Madrid we are spending two nights in the same place. It is a lovely rest. This morning we went up the valley to a little Spanish town, Os de Civís, that is only accessible by going through Andorra.  We walked up to the church at the top of the village and had coffee in the cafe. This seems to be a very big hiking center in summer. 

Next we drove into the Andorra la Vella, the capital of Andorra. We parked and walked around. It is an enormous shopping center. The whole town is like one big duty free store. 

They have some wonderful street art. This is La Noblesse du Temps by Dali. 

And this is a work called The Seven Poets by Jayne Pleasanton. You can only see three of them here. 

This mural on the right and the church on the left don’t even look real. 

We ate dinner at our Inn again.  We had a nice conversation with the owner and enjoyed a great meal. 

My iPhone has been acting up. Several times a day it acts like it has been hacked or is in a endless resources loop competition. I get a quivering bar across the top of the phone and need to restart the phone to use it at all. Sometimes I have to do a forced restart. I originally thought it might be some new applications I was using but I’ve deleted everything new. I also thought it might be related to having mobile data turned off since we are in Europe but it happens all the time on wifi and off. I’m beginning to think it is a hardware problem. Yuck!! So far it is just an annoyance. Let’s hope it stays that way!

Vielha to Andorra

We are in Andorra! A new country for both of us. 

This morning when we left Vielha we went up over a high mountain pass and past a very large ski resort, Baqueira-Beret. According to Wikipedia it is the largest and most visited ski resort in Spain. 

We crossed into Andorra. Andorra is small country 568 square kilometers. We are staying at a wonderful little Inn,  Hotel Parador de Canòlich. Although it has Parador in its name it is not part of the Spanish Parador chain. Parador means hostel in Spanish. The Inn is up a switch back road out in the country. We are the only ones staying here.   We will be here two nights. 

After napping we went for a walk up the road 

We are dinner here at the inn. They  started our meal with toast. They explained that we should rub garlic on the toasted bread, then rub tomatoes on the toast. Finally we should drizzle on olive oil and add salt. It was yummy as was the whole meal. 

Bielsa to Vielha

Tonight will be our last night to stay in a Parador in Spain on this trip. This morning we walked around the Bielsa Parador area a bit and then headed back down the mountain. 

We stopped for coffee in the village of Bielsa which is 12 kilometers from the Parador. A plaque near where we parked told an interesting story. At the end of the Spanish Civil War in the Spring of 1938 the Republicans defending the High Aragon faced ultimate defeat. The shepards of this area knew a way over the mountains. First they guided thousands of women and children and then the retreating army through the snow over a high mountain pass across the mountains to the refugee camps in France. 

During World War II this same route was used both to move fighters and goods into France and to permit the escape of those fleeing Nazi persecution. 

On our last trip I read Kristin Hannah’s book The Nightingale. In the book the Nightingale is the code name for a woman who helps downed British airmen escape to Spain by hiking over the Pyrenees. In the book they cross the border in a totally different place but I still thought of that book when I was looking at those mountains today. 

Bielsa is a beautiful little town. We had coffee in a little bar/restaurant.  The owner led us into s little side kitchen to show us the paella they were starting   

A little farther down the road we stopped at a farmers market. They had some beautiful vegetables!

Bielsa where we are staying tonight is a ski town. Although it is a Spanish town it used to be only accessible from France. Then in 1950s they built a tunnel through the mountains. The tunnel is more than 5 kilometers long!

We explored Vielha a bit. 

Then we had one last great Parador dinner. 

Santiago de Compostela to Fuente Dé

Today was a long day of driving for us, about 300 miles. It rained a lot of the way but it was a beautiful drive. We drove north to the coast and then east along the coast. Tonight we are in the northern mountains of Spain, the Picos de Europa. The first part of the drive was through rolling green hills that reminded me of England. The last hour or so was up a deep canyon beside a rushing river. 

About half way through the drive we got off the freeway and happened upon a wonderful country restaurant/bar. First we just ordered coffee and used the restrooms but then the friendly owner suggested seafood soup. We ordered some and a plate of clams. They were both wonderful. 

The Parador at Fuente Dé is surrounded by mountains. It seems likely that it will snow here overnight but tomorrow is supposed to be clear. We had a good dinner. This my warm salad of artichokes, brocalli, ham and garlic. 

And this is my veal. 

Santillana Gil Blas to Bielsa

Today was our longest driving day of the trip. We drove east about half way across the neck of the Iberian Peninsla. The scenery changed dramatically when we left the coast.

Tonight we are surrounded by the Pyrenees Mountains at Parador Bielsa.

While we were at Santillana Gil Blas I had hoped to visit the Caves of Altamira.  Based on a recommendation from my friend HD I had really wanted to visit the Caves to see recreations of some of Europes earliest rock art. But I had forgotten that almost all museums in Spain are closed on Mondays so it didn’t work out on this trip. I guess we will have to come back again!

As our starters for dinner tonight Duke had pâté and I had soup.

And then we each had the really delicious steak as our main course.

Fuente Dé to Santillana Gil Blas

We woke up this morning to sunny clear skies. Overnight it had snowed on the mountains around us but not down at the Fuente Dé Parador. 

We took the cable car up the mountain, enjoyed the views and walked around in the fresh snow.  The cable car goes up almost 2,500 feet. As you can see the views are fantastic. In our cable car there was a family with a sled. We saw a few families sledding with kids chortling with joy. 

You can rent snowshoes and cross country skis at the top. We saw people using both. There are several trails that started at the top of the cable car. 

It was warm in the sun a truly spectacular spot. We went back down the cable car to our car. Next we went back to the coast out the canyon road we came in on yesterday. We stopped at the Picos de Europa visitor center. 

On the coast we stopped at a beach on our way to our Parador at Santillana Gil Blas. 

I’m not quite sure what this house is but I think it looks cool. 

Santillana Del Mar is a beautiful old town. We  walked around exploring a bit before dinner. 

For dinner I started with roast vegetables. The fan shaped things are mushrooms. 

Duke had a half plate of anchovies and a half plate of croquettes. 

We each had sea bass with spinach as our main course.