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Thursday, 28 June 2012

France, Part 1 and Spain, Part 2

France, part 1

Day 1 – 24/6/12
We had the most stunning day’s drive through the mountains and into France via the d’Aragouet-Bielsa Tunnel. We then drove via the d 929 and d 918 roads to Gavarnie. The scenery is totally awesome. And the good news is that you will be able to see some of it on this year’s Tour d’France. The drive over Coll d’Aspin and Coll du Tourmalet is one of the mountain stages this year. There were lots of riders doing this stage when we drove through.

We camped at the La Bergerie campground at the foot of Cirque de Gavarnie – an awe- inspiring multi peak massif. A totally incredible sight. For the RSAers, the Cirque de Gavarnie is like a smaller version of Mont Aux Sources.
We pulled up in the camp ground beside a couple from Melbourne. Ben (Jig) Jones & Nicole Pyne. Incredibly Nicole works with Nonie, sister of our good friends Mark Shanks & Carole (& Peter) Rushbrook. A very small world.
In the evening  we watched a very poor standard match between England & Italy. It was so boring that even Avril was happy to leave at about the ¾ mark.

Avril driving; 276 km; 5 hrs; N 420 43’ 42.0’’ W 0000 00’ 27.2’’ The camp ground is nice and clean – € 15/night (cold showers included, hot showers € 2 for 8 min. a lot cheaper than Spain – long may it last.)

Day 2 – 25/6/12
It was a pretty cold night, but luckily our doona was readily available. Early on (08:00) Ray walked into the village to get freshly baked, traditional bread for breakfast & lunch whilst Avril slept. We went for a 3 hour walk to the hotel near the base of the main feature a water fall, the largest (highest?) in Europe – 423m. From memory, the Tugela fall from Mont Aux Sources is a lot higher than that. As a reward we had beer & diet coke with our rolls. The scenery continued to fill us with awe. We took a new picture every few steps.

After the walk, we strolled into the village where Avril managed to find a pair of walkers (at a very reasonable price) to replace her old ones, which are near the end of their useful life – bought in the UK in mid-2004!

Day 3 – 26/6/12
Another very cold night, at least for us. Still, we cannot complain about the weather, apart from the very occasional few spots of rain and a couple of very light showers, we have had no rain since Gabon. Again, Ray walked into town to buy bread. At 08:00 hrs the church bells toll and the town gets ready for the day. The shops begin to open and all the shop keepers call hello as Ray walks along. Ray managed to have a school boy French discussion with the baker: hello, how are you, it is cold, no the baker thinks it is great etc. Then, in sympathy the baker swaps to English. The barista on the way back to camp does not swap to English – maybe Ray is making progress or (probably) the café  folks think he is a bit of “try hard”.  

We did a couple of side trips to lookout points as we left the Haute Pyrenees National Park. Again, the scenery was spectacular. The only negative with the Park is the flies – they seem to be in plague numbers in the morning and evening. Much worse than Spain – which in turn is worse than Oz!
We drove to Lourdes with the thought we may spend a night there. But, as you would expect from the 2nd most visited city in France, it was super busy with lots of buses in the narrow streets. So, we decided to drive to San Sebastian. Home office had instructed us to go there.

Spain, part 2

Day 12 – 26 /6/12
The GPS again took us a torturous, minor back road route to Camping Igueldo, high in the hills above and 5 km from San Sebastian.
With a thud we were back to Spain camping prices: € 34/night. The clouds came down early, 18:00 and blanketed the site. Brrr

Ray driving; 294 km; 6 hrs; N 430 18’ 17.1’’ W 0020 02’ 45.3’’

Day 13 – 27/6/12
After midday we took a bus into the center of San Sebastian. It is a pretty lay-back place, even the hop on – hop off bus and the little tourist mini train (& shops) stop for siesta. We immediately made for the restaurant area: Parte Vieja. The eateries typically have an extensive selection of tapas, and it is all displayed for you to select. You are given a plate to pick what delights you, the waiters take the food that needs to be heated and you can either stand or sit with your drinks. All very yummy.

San Sebastian is known for its food. There is not a lot else. Apparently the beach is the best in Europe, mmmm, they really do need to come to Oz. We walked around for a bit and after seeing all the attractions, went back for some more eats and drink and watched a Wimbledon tennis match (no prizes for guessing who wanted to do that). Afternoon melded into evening and we went about eating and drinking through the restaurant area. Then, Spain was playing Portugal in the Euro Cup semi, so we settled down for a bit, with food & drinks and watched the 1st half. At half time we took a bus back to the camp. There was a fierce electrical storm, but no rain. Ray stayed by the vehicle in case the rain did eventuate and Avril watched the rest of the soccer.

Day 14 – 28/6/12
The fog/mist settled in and remained quite close all day. We decided to take a side trip to Bilbao to have a look at the Guggenheim Museum. It was about a 100 km drive there and somehow we managed to take a toll road.

There was no parking in Bilbao. We should mention that the vehicle is ~ 2.2 m high (we now have a spare tyre on the roof rack) and hence underground car parks are not available to us. So we did a drive- by viewing of the Museum. Apparently the building is the most famous part and not being students of interesting, if slightly wacky architecture, we cannot really comment. We can say that the traffic management is very complex.

We managed to take the local roads out from Bilbao and quickly realised why folks take the toll roads. It is very hard to maintain any sort of speed on the non-toll roads.

Spain Summary
From the blog you can tell that Spain was not our most favourite country. Though there is disagreement in the camp as to where it lies in the seriatim of badness.

On the positive side, the roads are great, the scenery (once you leave the apartments of the south) is interesting and in places spectacular, the supermarkets are the best around and the pig delicious (we bought extra to take into France).

The big negative was the theft of Avril’s purse and the impact on our time here; always needing to be aware, watching out for theft, preparing for outings with security as the main thing etc. The campgrounds are expensive (but we have not been to the rest of Europe yet) and in the Spanish style, very noisy making sleep difficult. The fruit & veg is presented nicely, but we found it not so tasty. In general we were disappointed with our dining out experiences and thought they were poor value for money (compared to Oz). We had really looked forward to this and maybe our expectations were too high.

Avril: rates Spain as enjoyable, but not fantastic.
Ray: rates Spain as above the DRC. But, maybe he is a bit harsh?

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