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Spanish Roadtrip August 2009 - Part One

The Cranes in Spain lie mainly in the Frame

sunny 39 °C

We loved some stretches of road so much, we did 'em twice!

Our trip started with a 0350 minicab ride to Stansted Airport. It was the usual white knuckled trip as our sub-continental driver battled to keep his eyes open at 85mph up the motorway. Through the grace of God (or Vishnu or Shiva) we arrived safely, checked in and in 1 hour 50 mins we were landing in Barcelona. We collected our hire car, a Seat Ibiza, and prepared to meet our first challenge. Driving on the opposite side of the car... on the opposite side of the road. Jen put her hand up for the challenge and before very long we were zipping down the road without any worry. Suffice it to say we brought our TomTom with us and had it set to remind us to drive on the right hand side of the road. After about 20mins driving we reached The Hotel Alimara. It's a nice, NH style place and we were in a spacious double room on the 2nd floor. It is a 3 minute walk to the metro station and about 15 mins by train to the city centre.

Streets_of_Barcelona.jpg Streets of BarcelonaArch_de_Triomf.jpg

That afternoon we took the metro to Diagonal station and then walked for about 15 minutes to our first stop, Sagrada Familia. We were instantly struck by the beauty of Barcelona the moment we emerged from the station. This is a city where function is not valued over form. The buildings are absolutely amazing, so ornate, a mix of modern and gothic architecture. Every couple of blocks we found ourselves stopping in awe of one of the building designs, ornate facades, or Gaudi-esqe edifices.Sagrada Familia is an iconic site designed by Gaudi in 1882. It was not completed in his lifetime and work continues still in an effort to finish his design.

Sagrada_Familia.jpg Sagrada Familia... and the cranes Sagrada_Familia_2.jpg

The heat was just starting to make its impression on us when we arrived so we were thankful for the shade trees and park benches opposite this beautiful church. It was every bit as wonderous as the images we had seen in books. It also maintained the European trend of constant maintenance or reconstruction. We soon came to the realisation that ‘The cranes in Spain lie mainly in the frame’ it was almost impossible to take a photograph without a crane or some scaffold in the shot. It didn’t prevent us taking a few shots though, nor the hundreds of other visitors there.

We walked South toward the city for a while before stopping for a drink and a bite to eat at a taverna. We had been assured, by several people, that everyone in the major cities spoke english and would in fact PREFER to speak in english, rather than endure our struggle with limited Spanish. When the proprietor brought over a menu we found that he spoke absolutely no English whatsoever. However, with the help of some very animated gesticulation, he said “Tu leer' (paused) "me habla” (you read then come and talk to me). 'Sin problema' I thought. Jen chose grilled ham and cheese (called a bikini) and a coke. Great... I can pronounce that. I went for a fritata Espanol and a latte. I approached the counter, practicing the dialogue under my breath and he approached, grinning. “Por favour Senor” I said (off to a good start) “Una bikini...” he put his hand up and stopped me. He was shaking his head slowly and took a short pause before telling me that what I really wanted was the chicken and indicated to the dish on his right. I politely declined but he insisted that was what I wanted. I patted my stomach and indicated that it would be too much. He insisted that what I wanted was the chicken. "Bien, bien" he said kissing his finger tips like an Italian. I ended up saying “Si” to the chicken and several of his other suggestions. It was that or starve. I was singularly unarmed for a conversational battle over a bikini. When I returned to the table Jen asked me how it went. I explained that I had ordered food but had only a vague idea exactly what food I had ordered. We had our drinks and waited for the food to arrive. A variety of small dishes arrived and we immediately went for the chicken. He was right. It was delicious, as was everything else. We were a little anxious about the ‘eat first-get the bill later’ approach and were hoping we were not going to be scammed, but the bill was very reasonable. When we went inside to pay we explained we were Australian. He and his wife seemed thrilled and immediately assured us that they were aware of the fact that Australia is very bad at soccer. He praised our national basketball team before pouring four shots of something which he described as 'little bit alcohol'. Salud! It was like rocket fuel. We smiled broadly as the contents of the glass ripped the flesh from our throats. His wife necked the contents and grinned. Jen later admitted to thinking we were being poisoned for initially baulking at the chicken suggestion. We figured if he made the wife drink it then we should be alright. We thanked them for everything. There was hand shaking all round and I politely said ‘adios senor’... to his wife! Oops.. I meant senora. I blame the alcohol.

Casa_Mila_La_Pridrera.jpg
Casa Mila La Pridera - Classic Gaudi Architecture

IMGP4034.jpg Barcelona Marina
The next day we took the metro to Gracia station and walked to Gaudi park. We had brought a baguette, chorizo and cheese so ate a picnic breakfast seated on a bench in the shade. After eating, we walked around the park before heading back to the hotel for siesta. That afternoon we took the train to the city and walked to Barcelonetta beach. We sat and had an ice-cream and drink. An old lady had a wee in the sand in front of us so we quickly decided to take a walk along boardwalk then stop at a cafe for cervesa, bocadillo and agua. The food was great but the beer was enough to put us to sleep after a long day in the sun.

Day 3 we took the metro to Place de Catalunya. We exited the metro and found a large plaza with statues and fountains. A girl approached us with tickets for the Bus Turistic. We are fans of the hop on, hop off buses. They are a great way to see the big ticket sights when you don't have a great deal of time. We started on the red line which took us to Casa les Punxes, Sagrada Familia, Sarria, Pavellons Guell and FC Barcelona's ground. After a break we did two laps of the blue line. We visited Placa d'Espanya, Poble Espanyol, Port Vell, Museu d'Historia de Catalunya and Catedral.
After finishing the busride we sat in the shade eating a maxibon and sipping on a diet coke (irony). We headed home, baked from the sun, and relaxed. We were comparing our 3 day tans and applying our moisturising regime when a middle aged English woman suddenly burst into our room. Jen said ‘Excuse me!’ in her gruffest voice, but it’s hard to be intimidating when you’re sitting on the floor in your singlet and nicks!

Wednesday morning we hit the road early, excited to be behind the wheel and making a start on our roadtrip proper. We headed for our next destination, Zaragoza. The roads were good and we saw the space open up as we left Barcelona. The morning revealed the colours which would dominate the Spanish landscape. We had taken the time to burn 2 roadtrip soundtrack cds. We were relaxed and comfortable on the right hand lane and pressed play. We sank into the seats a little more and contemplated the long road ahead. We felt like we were in a Cameron Crowe movie... and it felt really, really good.

IMGP4163.jpg On the RoadIMGP4174.jpgIMGP4160.jpg

We arrived in Zaragoza and 'dos Tom' found a carpark. Again we had packed a picnic breakfast so we found a shady spot by the river and ate. The town is dominated by an impressive cathederal and has a lovely main plaza. We had a coffee and plotted the course to our hotel. We had booked a nights accommodation in a town named Fraga. It sounded ideal, positioned within easy reach of Zaragoza and our next stop Huesca, or so the website said. In reality Fraga meant backtracking for an hour and a quarter. Hey, we didn't mind. We like a drive.

IMGP4149.jpg Zaragoza

IMGP4140.jpgIMG_2270.jpg

Zaragoza Cathedral - with our shady picnic spot in the foreground.

IMG_2298.jpg Zaragoza Plaza

We arrived in Fraga and accidently drove through it whilst looking for a place to make a U-turn. We pulled in at the hotel and the 10 or so old guys seated out the front gazed, un-blinkingly, as we walked to the front door. We checked in and showered before joining the blokes out the front. We placed our order with the heavily intoxicated waiter and waited for our drinks. All the time, feeling the constant stare of the locals. We drank our drinks still under scrutiny. We wondered if anyone from out of town had ever arrived here before. Jen has a theory that the guys out front had arrived, as teenagers, after getting lost in a terrible storm. Having never found a way out of town again, they now found themselves in their 70s. We took a walk around the town and settled on an early night. We left at dawn the next day. The drive took us through some beautiful areas. Fields of sunflowers with a mountain backdrop and flocks of cranes taking flight as we passed. The roads became almost non existent. We found ourselves having to crawl along in 1st gear, negotiating our way around the potholes. This only added fuel to our theory that Fraga was designed to be inescapable. We resolved to push on for fear of returning to the hotel to live out our lives. Sitting with the old guys, staring at poor souls who stumbled into town in error, and learning to play the banjo. We climbed hill after hill until, finally, we found the bitumen road again. We set 'dos tom' for Barbosa and put the hammer down.

We stopped for a coffee at a bar in Barbastro, bought breakfast items at the Carrefour and then hit the road. We headed to Monzon to see the impressive Castle. The town of Monzon is fairly small and full of character. We climbed along the cobbled lanes, flanked by scores of ladies sweeping and chatting to each other or sitting in the shade in front of their houses. A long narrow road snakes its way from the town to the castle.

IMG_2313.jpg Streets of Monzon

The day was heating up as we arrived and the climb was taxing, but the views were stunning. We could see for miles in all directions and the large statue of Christ stood watching over the town of Monzon.

IMG_2306.jpg Jesus Looking Over MonzonIMG_2329.jpg View from Castillo de Monzon

Areas of Castillo de Monzon date back to the 9th and 10th centuries. The Knights Templar received the castle in 1143 and it remained one of the great feudal commanderies in the lands that formed the border between the Christian and Muslim worlds. We loved Monzon and now had our 'castle in the mountains' mojo working. We set out for our next destination... Alquezar.

Alquezar is perched high in the mountains. The area hosts many adventure tourists who engage in activities such as canyoning, kayaking and climbing. We, however, chose the adventure that can only be found in trying to find a toilet after a long drive. That achieved, we sat and had a cold drink at a cafe on the edge of the mountainside. We gazed down at the massive vultures which prowled the sky above the canyons. Refreshed we walked up towards the town. As we approached the main gate we could hear music and much activity. We entered through the gate and were greeted by a gentleman with a glass caraffe with a thin pouring spout set about half way up, filled with red wine. He was laughing loudly as he demonstrated his expert aim. He held the wine high and guided a thin stream of wine through the air and into his mouth. He gave me the wine and told me to give it a try. I did. It was good wine!

IMGP4255.jpg We are all about getting into local customsIMGP4261.jpg Fiesta Time

As we continued through the streets, towards the castle, a number of brass and guitar bands performed. They walked through the lanes, surrounded by the crowd singing and playing. Everyone had a sprig of local flora behind their ears. The whole town was gripped by a fiesta mood. Click Here to see our video of Alquezar.

We reached the castle and, again, the view was simply amazing. We felt like we had stepped back in time. The town structure had changed so little through the years that we could imagine life here centuries earlier. Alquezar not only sounds magic... it was.

IMGP4273.jpg Views down from AlquezarIMGP4279.jpg AlquezarIMG_2359.jpg Alquezar

The afternoon was drawing to a close when we returned to the road. We drove towards Huesca, a provincial town in North Central Aragon, and a gateway to the Aragonese Pyrenees. We decided to spend the first night in our trusty tent, at Camping San Jorge. When we had entered the town we noticed the vast majority of people were dressed in white pants and shirt with a green bandana and sash-belt. It turned out we had arrived in time for one night of a week long celebration for the festival of San Lorenzo. Click here to see our video of the Fiesta. We joined the masses in the centre of the old town for traditional singing & dancing, complete with traditional costume and castanets! There was also lengthy stretches of market stalls and a firework show to cap off the evening. We also had the first of what would become a regular treat throughout the rest of the trip. Rich ice-cream in a cone. Flavour... turron (Spanish Nougat). We felt pretty lucky to have stumbled across two festivals in one day.

4_Huesca_Festival.jpg Fiestas De San Lorenzo

We didn't get much sleep on our first night camping. It was only as we put our heads down to sleep that we realised two significant issues. The slow leaks in our sleeping mats and the fact we had no pillows, and nothing to use as a pillow other than a towel and a couple of somewhat fragrant T-shirts.

Dont Miss the Next Exciting Installment - Huesca to Leon (Coming Soon)

Be FASCINATED by Gary the Twitcher (Birdwatcher)....

Be THRILLED by the Crazy Spanish Drivers

Be AMAZED by the single Australian Gum Tree of Celorio

(Voiceover) IF YOU ONLY READ ONE BLOG THIS YEAR, MAKE SURE IT'S "SPANISH ROADTRIP"

Posted by StephenJen 23:16 Archived in Spain

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