Tim likes to travel. Follow his adventures as he explores the world.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Puebleando the Pyrenees: Spain and France

A summary (then you can skip to the photos)

The viejo monasterio de San Juan de la Peña
The viejo monasterio de San Juan de la Peña
(sounds better than the old monastery of Saint John of the big rock)
Ainhoa's parents have loaned us their van and we put a makeshift bed in the back and plan to camp each night on our trip as we tour around the Pyrenees mountains. We plan to circle around the mountain range into France, and then cross through it on our way back into Spain.

Day one: Deported from France and Aragonés History

We head to France via Irun and as soon as we cross the border we have the unfortunate luck (this seems to happen to me a lot here) to get pulled over for a random check - after having to pay the toll. We show our IDs and then they ask me for my passport. I didn't bring it. I stopped traveling with my passport after having traveled to France so many times without it and I assumed I didn't need it. 
Hit the road jack!
Hit the road jack!
It just so happens to be a law that I have to have my local ID and my passport when I travel outside of Spain. The police officer seems to be showing a new officer the ropes, so I think that is why he is being so tiquismiquis about the whole thing. We have to follow them to the police station, and have to pay another toll en route, where they process my info, and I receive a "get-out-of-town" letter. So, for the first time in my life I get kicked out of a country and have to return to Spain. They even escort us to the border to ensure we don't make a run for it. They say there is no problem to return immediately to France, I just need my passport.

On the way home we stop in Hendaia to have our almuerzo. Ainhoa is less than happy about the whole situation, but she doesn't let this little setback ruin our trip. We return home and grab my passport and then head towards Jaca, in the Aragón province of Spain. En route we stop at San Juan de la Peña, two monasteries that sit atop Mount Oroel. We start at the bottom of the hill where the old monastery is to buy tickets, and then walk 1.5km (uphill) from the old monastery to the new monastery, because there are bathrooms there and I have to pee. 

Feeling relieved, we walk around the new monastery, and there are only 2 other people visiting. The new monastery (1676) was built after 3 fires in the old monastery, and even suffered one fire itself. There are glass floors that show the ruins below and they have statues and furniture that depict the monk's lives. Go outside and cross over to the excavation area where they exhibit the different jobs the monk's performed. Cannot enter the church since it has been emptied and is closed to the public and is only open for group tours. Hmm, that's not weird.

Go back 1.5km down to old monastery (921) which is way smaller and built directly into the rock (peña). The other two tourists have followed us here... The old monastery is so cool (literally, it felt amazing on such a hot day) and thought to once contain the famous holy grail. Leave the monastery and stop at a mirador on Mount Oroel with amazing views, while we eat a late lunch. 
We're in love with this van and it's in love with us
We're in love with this van and it's in love with us
Head into Jaca in the late afternoon and go to the ciudadela, but it's closed so we head to San Pedro church. Not as extravagant as many churches and one of the few that I've seen with no giant organs. Walk around Jaca and find an artisanal ice cream shop and it is delicious. We see all the major sites around the city before relaxing a bit in a park on the Paseo de la Constitución. 

From there we head up Piedrafita de Jaca in the Tena Valley. We watch the sunset from the Mirador de la Punta el Baro (not a typo and I have no idea what it means). We sleep in the van there at the mirador and not one other car passes the entire night. Going outside at night I see the most amazing night sky, with no light pollution, and I can see every star that ever existed ever. It's utterly breathtaking. 
Count Vanula, or Livin' la vanda loca, or Furgoneta eta eta eh eh, or maybe let's not give it a name
Count Vanula, or Livin' la vanda loca, or Furgoneta eta eta eh eh, or maybe let's not give it a name
I don't seem to be too upset about being deported (the glasses hide my tears)
I don't seem to be too upset about being deported (the glasses hide my tears)
We found the holy grail!!! And we didn't even have to fight with the knights who say "nit"
We found the holy grail!!! And we didn't even have to fight with the knights who say "nit"
Piedrafita and the sunset on the lake in the mountains - just like a fairytale... except for the black guy
Piedrafita and the sunset on the lake in the mountains - just like a fairytale... except for the black guy

Day two: Tena Valley fun and a night in Lourdes, France

Wake up to beautiful weather and clear skies and head to Sallent de Gállego, also in the Tena Valley. We go to information where they tell us that there is a bike race and the road will shut down in 20 minutes, for 8 hours, making it impossible to go to France. We chance it and leave immediately but we are met by the guardia civil who let us know the road has already been shut down, so we turn around. 
Panoramic view of the north side of the Tena Valley
Panoramic view of the north side of the Tena Valley
Return to Tena Valley and go to Lanuza.  En route we see a workout park - of course we stop and Train with TMax! After beastmoding, we continue to Lanuza, and as you enter the 9-building town, you see distinctive blue street lights along the road. We go down to the embalse (reservoir) de Lanuza, where we inflate our boat we borrowed from friends for just such an occasion. We row out to the middle of the embalse and then relax for almost 2 hours while eating cherries. 

Next we head back to Sallent de Gállego to have lunch and a siesta next to a quaint stream and Paco's Old Bridge (or Old Paco's Bridge?). Afterward, we walk around the small town and see a rock climbing wall, an arc, a church, and a couple of fountains with deliciously cold and refreshing water. We grab a coffee before saying goodbye to town.

The road is open and we head up to France, traversing the curvy mountain roads of the Pyrenees. Cows, horses, sheep, donkeys (and even a random cat) freely walk the narrow two lane roads that has no barriers despite the 1,000+ meter cliffs on the side. We see few other cars, except for a Dutch couple that keeps stopping at all the same landmarks and viewpoints as us. Of course, since I have my passport, we see no police at the border, or at all in France. 

Continue until we reach Lourdes (wikipedia has some interesting info on the town). We wanted to see the 9pm procession at the Basilica Notre Dame de Lourdes, but we arrive a bit late and only see the end of the religious service that is held in several different languages via loudspeakers. Then, we walk around to the back of the basilica to enter the Massabielle Cave. Strolling around the area, we see people everywhere. We stop to get water for a friend from one of the "healing" fountains and we encounter some rude people, but we don't let them bother us. Leaving, we walk down Avenue Bernadette Soubirous and it seems like the Las Vegas strip - with bright lights, hotels, souvenir shops, and restaurants (open this late is rare for France). 

We head to Lourdes Lake to have a late dinner, picnic-style, while we hear people, young and old, playing and swimming in the unlit and unsupervised water. 

Formigal ski resort. I've never seen a resort without snow
Formigal ski resort. I've never seen a resort without snow
A beautiful day and place for a workout
A beautiful day and place for a workout
This guy was attached (literally) to Ainhoa while we worked out
This guy was attached (literally) to Ainhoa while we worked out
Getting the boat ready. I only did the seats manually, and the boat with a battery-powered pump
Getting the boat ready. I only did the seats manually, and the boat with a battery-powered pump
The middle of the reservoir with peña Foratata in the background
The middle of the reservoir with peña Foratata in the background
With Fermin, the Aragónes giant, in Sallents (he was 2,29m)
With Fermin, the Aragónes giant, in Sallents (he was 2,29m)
Inside the church on top of the hill in Sallents
Inside the church on top of the hill in Sallents
Practicing for the next tour de France - Col d'Aubisque
Practicing for the next tour de France - Col d'Aubisque
Mooooove!
Mooooove!
Get out of the road, you ass!
Get out of the road, you ass!
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes
Backside view with the cave
Backside view with the cave
I chose the path of light
I chose the path of light
We saw a lady with a suitcase and overheard her say she got 15L of the water
We saw a lady with a suitcase and overheard her say she got 15L of the water
Ants on a log is a must-have dish at any picnic
Ants on a log is a must-have dish at any picnic


Day three: French Basque Country road trip

Wake up early and go back to the Lourdes lake to see what it actually looks like. Then, we drive 30 minutes to Pau. We park and walk to Beaumont Palace and through the park. Exit the park and walk down the Pyrenees Boulevard, a 2km elevated walkway with a nice view of the Pyrenees. We stop and have an expensive coffee with chocolatine (chocolate filled bread) - I complain about the price but Ainhoa reminds me that we are France. 
The face you make when you are trying to pose for a selfie but take the picture before you are ready
The face you make when you are trying to pose for a selfie 
but take the picture before you are ready
After our coffee, we walk around the town, see the castle and gardens, church of Saint Martin, Tour de Monnaie, and a few other monuments. We see the tourism office, which has excellent maps that would have been useful about 3 hours ago. But, we see that we've pretty much seen everything there is in the town. It's Sunday, so there isn't much going on. We head to church of Saint Jacques, the first Gothic-style church I've ever seen with glass doors. Cross through the main square, Place Clemenceau, on our way back to the car. Next stop is Lescars. 

Park in the center of Lescars and walk around and see the ramparts and views. They are having local elections and people are voting, but otherwise there is almost no life in the town. Continue to Orthez. Have lunch in the shade of Moncade tower. 

Our last stop on the way home is Bayonne. Ainhoa knows the town so she acts as my tour guide. Saint Mary's cathedral has some sweet stained glass (no, I didn't lick them, they were interesting to my eyeballs). Walk around the ramparts, back to the town hall square where we have a coffee before the 75 minute drive home. I order ice cream (glace) in my coffee, instead of ice (glaçon) but Ainhoa saves/ruins this experience for me, with her perfect French. Today has been exceptionally hot and the car ride home in the sun is quite uncomfortable. Once we arrive home, a long and well deserved shower awaits us. 
Handstand with war memorial and church of St. Martin
Handstand with war memorial and church of St. Martin
All is well in the courtyard in the Pau Castle. Get it? That's a well in the front of the pic
All is well in the courtyard in the Pau Castle. Get it? 
That's a well in the front of the pic
Climbing Moncade Tower
Climbing Moncade Tower
In Bayonne, I'm showing you where the Nive and Adour rivers meet
In Bayonne, I'm showing you where the Nive and Adour rivers meet
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