Traveling the world, learning languages, and immersing myself in new cultures.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Road Trip from Belgium to Spain

Synopsis: I have found a way to immerse myself into the Spanish language and culture. I finally got an au pair visa (read about the chronicle here) and I'll teach some English and French to the Spaniards. I am taking my car with me, so that means a road trip is at hand! Will and I are going to take three days and enjoy some of the French countryside on the way there.

Where the map goes, we will follow

Trip Overview:
Day 1: Head out on the road with Will, the best driver this side of Peru, and myself, the best non contributor in the galaxy. I accidentally select "avoid tolls" on the GPS and we add two hours to our drive time and we are off in the farmlands of France.

Finally, we arrive in Lyon, right at rush hour. After driving around our hotel a few times, we find free street parking, then walk to our hotel. Since our hotel is on the main strip we walk around and hit Place Bellecour. Other than a giant ferris wheel, a statue, and a closed tourist info center, there isn't much there. We grab some food and then walk around the Traboules of Old Lyon, and walk forever uphill to the Basilica Fourvière. After all that walking, we are hungry again and end up at a Mexican restaurant. Afterward, we go to place Hotel De Ville, but it's dead so we head back to the hotel.

Thoughts: After watching Will drive for six hours, and then walking for several more hours around the city, I was exhausted. But not as exhausted as Will, who fell asleep as we walked into the hotel. Lyon is beautiful by night and quite spread out. We stopped at a hostel to ask about pub crawls and organized night tours and there doesn't seem to be either. Dommage.

On the open road

This is what it looks like when you are not on the toll road

Fixing a little problem is no problem for a big fixer

Arriving at nightfall

Place Bellecour in downtown Lyon

The Basilica Fourvière after a looooong walk uphill

I guess we have to walk that way

Day 2: Breakfast at the hotel is pretty good and fuels us for the day. Walk back to Place Hotel de Ville and take pics. Then jump on the metro to go up to the Basilica Fourvière. We ride the metro to the funicular, to go the rest of the way up. While we are on top of the hill we also see the ancient Roman forum. Funicular back down to the city and walk around, heading toward Place de la République. The Lyon Christmas market is going on and is pretty nice.

Leave Lyon in the early afternoon and head to Pont du Gard. We arrive at the magic hour, which is awesome for killing dragons but terrible for taking pictures with an iPhone. The bridge is amazing and it is lit up at night. There is absolutely no one else at the bridge and all the shops and restaurants are closed. We walk onto the bridge and we can hear the water flowing through the aqueduct. Will and I jump from the walking bridge to one of the pillars of the aqueduct, with a ten foot fall below, and it feels like a rite of passage when we do it. 

Arriving in Montpellier and we meet Emma and Stef at her place. I hosted them as couchsurfers two years before. We go into town and walk the Christmas market and enjoy some vin chaud (hot wine). Then, to a restaurant that is super crowded, where we partake in French delicacies like frog legs, snails, and undercooked duck. From there we go to a rock bar with a decent cover band. Emma has a cousin that works there so we get free drinks. Afterward, we walk around the city a bit and then head home.

Thoughts: Stopped at Aire à Rambert Lyon after leaving Lyon, and it was the nicest rest stop ever. Plus there seems to be free Wi-Fi at all rest stops on toll roads in France. Bars in France close at one, which also happens to be the time bars start getting crowded in Belgium. 

Takin' a pic of him takin' a pic...

...of me takin' a pic of him takin' a pic

Le Patineur de César and moi

Failed handstand or beginning of kicking up onto my feet?

Going to the top

The city covered in fog

Fun at the Roman ruins

10 second timer.... and go!

Cool fountain #1 - Fontaine Bartholdi

Cool fountain #2 - Fontaine de la Place des Jacobins

Lyon Christmas market

iPhone's best rendition of the Pont du Gard at night

Will climbing the bridge

I just took a leap of faith / closed my eyes and tripped
Montpellier's Christmas market

First of many selfies with Emma and Stef

Vin chaud!

Will loves it!

This pretty much sums up the night

Day 3: Wake up and Stef makes us a French breakfast - toast and jam with coffee. We hang out and talk for a couple of hours before heading out.

We drive to Carcassonne, and despite the rain, we enjoy it. The ramparts are closed so we decide not to pay for the castle, and just walk around it. We get some great pictures that acrophobics would dread. After the seeing the medieval city, I walk the cemetery alone, since Will doesn't like dead people, but likes the show "The Walking Dead" - go figure.

The last leg of the drive is about 4 hours and it is dark, foggy, raining, and dark and wet and we are driving through the Pyrenees. But Will is a good driver so it was no problem for him. I left permanent hand marks in my overhead door handle, because he made me feel safe and confident in his abilities. Finally, arrive in Zuasti around 9:30pm.

The family is there to greet us and the boys have to go to bed because it is late. We have dinner with Virginia and Leo and then go to bed ourselves.

Thoughts: It was so dark and rainy on the last part of the drive. Glad I wasn't driving. 

Inside the medieval city of Carcassonne

Too cheap to pay for castle entrance, yet still got a pic

Some amazing views

How'd he get all the way up there?

So brave to get the good pictures

"I'm on top of the world!"

Don't mind if I do

There's my driver

Pretty much what it looked like the whole day

I thought Americans were the only creative ones when it came to crazy food ideas

Finally in Spain

Day 4: We have breakfast with Virginia and then head into town to the police station and wait 90 minutes just to be given a paper to fill out and bring back later. It was all of 17 seconds that the lady helped me.

We head downtown and Virginia takes us along the route of the running of the bulls and gives us a great mini tour of Pamplona. We leave city center to meet up with Leo and we get to see his architectural engineering firm, Boheme. After chatting with his colleagues, we head to Common Good, a pretty good restaurant that is really cheap. We eat good food, dessert, drinks, and coffee for about 5€ per person. We drop Leo off back at work and then go to pick the boys up from school.

After heading home and hanging out with the boys for a bit, Will and I head back into town. Nothing is open. Like nothing.

Thoughts: It was so cold during our walking tour and the narrow alleys were icy wind tunnels. Unfortunately, it seems I've brought typical Belgian weather with me to Spain. Crosswalks show the time and it's like 40-75 seconds for people to cross!

Pamplona town hall

On the route of the running of the bulls

The arena at the end of the route of the running of the bulls

Locos with our guide, Virginia

Roman ruins in the parking garage

Roasted chestnuts are sold all over downtown

Can't come to Spain and not enjoy a sangria

Final Thoughts: I am really grateful to Will for coming along on the trip and driving the whole way. I don't mind driving, but it is so much easier to not drive. I paid 90€ in tolls!! The weather was pretty nice the first two days and then just rained the rest of the time. It was good seeing old friends in Montpellier, and stopping to see to UNESCO sites in France. I am looking forward to my new adventures in Spain and my quest for fluency in Spanish. 



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