A Travellerspoint blog


Spanish Roadtrip 2009 - part two

Tapas, toros & tomatina

sunny 39 °C
View Spain Roadtrip - Huesca to Salamanca on StephenJen's travel map.

After an enjoyable evening at Fiesta San Lorenzo in Huesca. We rose early and hit the road. We were heading to San Sebastian via Pamplona. First stop though was about 40 km NW in the town of Loarre, where another ancient castle stands, reputed to be Spain's best preserved Roman fortress. Castillo de Loarre was built in the 11th century by King Sancho III of Navarra and later expanded by Sancho Ramirez of Aragon. It's position allowed control over the expansive plains of Hoya de Huesca and was used to launch advances into the Muslim lands. It also featured in Ridley Scott's film 'Kingdom of Heaven'.

IMGP4321.jpg Morning at Castle Loarre
IMG_2405.jpg Castle WallsIMG_2445.jpg Views from The Castle

As we approached the entrance to the site, an englishmans voice came from behind a tree. My Australian flag shorts were met with the expected distain, given that we were mid-way through the ashes series at the time. Further inspection revealed a man of about 50 seated under a tree and behind a telescope. It was a friendly Englishman called Gary. A self confessed 'twitcher' (Noun - Brit informal a bird-watcher), Gary was able to tell us about the various birds which inhabit the area and identify the large birds of prey, circling the castle and surrounds, as 'Griffin Vultures' with a wing span of around 15 feet in larger specimens.

IMGP4324.jpg Griffin Vulture - These things are huge

Gary has set himself an amazing challenge for 2010. He is spending the year cycling all over the UK in an attempt to see an estimated 250 bird species. He aims to draw attention to the issue of climate change and to increase awareness of the Eco Schools Programme, whilst raising money for some excellent charities.
You can follow his progress here http://www.bikingbirder.co.uk/index.html

Gary joined us for a coffee after we had explored the ruins. Jen was almost comatose as she sat listening to two music nerds discussing every band, album and gig they had ever seen or heard. After what seemed like several hours, Gary and I had a 50 pence bet on the outcome of the cricket before Jen and I departed in search of the coast. Jen pointed out a rash which had developed on her neck and shoulders. She claimed it was due to exposure to dangerously high levels of boredom. I still believe it was a result of eating several kilos of cheese during the previous days.

In retrospect, we think we did the most beautiful part of our trip in the first week. The mountainous high lands provided castles, rivers, spectacular views and the changing colours of the landscape. As we drove over the highest peak of our route we saw a 10 minute period where the clear blue sky clouded over, grey and gloomy, and it rained. The temperature fell from 38 degrees down to 22 and then back to 39.

As we made our way toward Pamplona the road wound alongside lakes, through mountain tunnels, over long dry river beds, and areas of lush green trees. Pamplona is most famous for the 'Running of the bulls' however we made only a brief stop as we were eager to reach the Northern coast and the beaches of San Sebastian. Upon arrival, however, San Seb was choked with holiday makers and the streets were filled with people celebrating the fiesta. Almost every town we visited, in our first week, was celebrating a Fiesta in the name of their town's Saint. This presented us with some difficulty though, our Dos Tom would plot a route through the town but we would invariably find the city centre blocked to traffic. We did several laps around the centre of San Sebastian before deciding to push on along the coast in search of a quieter spot. The motorway runs several kilometers inland, but we decided to hug the coastline. After all, time was not an issue and the scenic route delivered some beautiful views. We drove to several camping grounds in the towns we passed through but they were all completo (full).

In **** we stumbled upon a sea of tents perched high on a heavily sloping hill overlooking the sea. We took the drive uphill to find a handfull of eastern European guys running check-in from a small portable office on the side of the road. The price was good but they insisted we could not pay cash up front and that they would need to hold our passports. We decided WE needed to hold our passports and kept driving. The sunset over the water was simply stunning and the cool of the evening had arrived, courtesy of a light breeze from across the water. We were resigned to a night spent sleeping in the car or on the beach, when we noticed the presence of small brown signs, featuring a tent icon, that indicated a campground a few kilometres up the road. Just inside the boundary of the town of Mutriku, and set on a hill just off the coast road, we found 'Camping Aitzeta' and set up for the night. We had a pitch set high on the top of the site which provided a lovely view of the water. We ate our standard fare, fresh bread with chorizo and cheese, before sitting outside at the restaurant for a coffee as the sun slowly disappeared.

The following morning, just before dawn, we walked to the water's edge and then along the coast into town. We have become fans of photos taken in the soft, even light of sunrise. The water was calm and the town silent as we ambled through the streets and back to camp. We packed our gear and hit the road. We had read about a place called Mundaka, which boasts the best waves in Europe.

IMG_2495.jpg Mutriku Harbour at DawnIMG_2485.jpgIMG_2482.jpg

IMGP4386.jpg Mundaca BeachIMGP4394.jpg

Dos Tom indicated a campgound on top of a hill just inland a few kilometers. It was dark when we arrived and we were doubtful they would have a pitch for us. We were wrong. We set up camp and headed for the cafe for Cervesa and dinner. The cook, a heavy-set man of around 60, limped over to the bar to take our order. We looked at the menu and ordered the paella...no paella. We ordered the Quesadilla... no quesadilla. He suggested an alternative but niether of us understood a word he said. Once again we simply nodded and said "Si. Gracias". The beer arrived courtesy of the skinny waiter... with a limp. The beer tasted especially good after a long drive. Our food arrived. It was egg and chips. We laughed quietly and joked that it was probably standard procedure to serve English speakers traditional English food. Mind you, part of the reason we travel is to escape the bland, stodgy, english fare. We ate what we could and then hit the sack.

9IMGP4485.jpg The Picos

Next morning we left the coast and headed inland. We decided to plot a route through the Picos de Europa, a lush green mountain range that extends from *** to ***. As was the case in Aragon, the altitude of the Picos delivered respite from the heat, and some breathtaking scenery. IN about *** minutes we reached Onions and the *** year old Roman bridge which sits above the river ***.

IMG_2563.jpg Puente de Romano

IMG_2539.jpg Puente de Romano

From de Onis we slowly climbed along the winding road, stopping often to take in the views. We broke for lunch at *** and enjoyed possibly the largest lunch Stephen has ever eaten. We confidently ordered the set menu lunch and some water. Now into our second week, we were getting into our groove when it came to ordering food or drinks in Spanish. We were suprised, however, when the food arrived. Jen's pasta was delicious but I found myself a little bewildered when my pork came in the form of a large silver soup turrine filled with tiny green peas swimming in a watery, spiced stock with little cubes of ham. Oh well... I do like peas, I thought. I ate as much as I could so as not to appear dissatisfied with the dish. I simultaneously pondered what the likely result of eating a copious amount of peas might have later in the day. The waitress arrived and removed the dishes. I indicated that the peas were delicious and that I simply couldn't squeeze any more in. Shortly after that she returned with my Pork fillet and what looked like a smallish round steak for Jen. In my effort not to appear ungrateful, I think I had probably simply ensured that I appeared to be at the very least a lover of green peas, or at worst, a relative of Mr Creosote from Monty Python's 'Meaning of Life'. We again ate what we could and smiled graciously as the plates were cleared. The waitress returned with ice-cream for desert and we managed to oblige. We paid the bill and waddled out to the car.

We left Salamanca early in the morning and headed for Madrid. We travelled on the secondary roads in preference to the motorway and as a result we discovered a number of smaller towns, rich in character and often possessing beautiful churches and plazas. We stopped for coffee at a bar in a tiny town. It was just after 9.00am when we entered the smoke filled bar. There were about 35 men sitting at tables, at poker machines, or at the bar. Jen was well received... as you might imagine. I wondered if these guys were relatives of the guys in Fraga. We passed on breakfast and drank our coffees and water without much conversation. We returned to the drive and soon found ourselves on a lengthy detour which took us off our route by a considerable distance. I did the smart thing and followed the cars in front, turning where and when they turned. Eventually we got back onto the bitumen and Dos Tom plotted a course. We travelled through some really beautiful little towns. The people would stop and stare as we passed through, sometimes they would smile and wave. We stopped and took some photos in *** after returning to the car an old man approached and tapped on the window. We rolled it down and he began to tell us, in Spanish, that his town was the best in all of Spain. We agreed and he continued on his way laughing and saying "Adios". We had heard that Segovia, about *km north of Madrid, was particularly lovely, so we made our way there for a late breakfast. Segovia is yet another beautiful town with a lengthy stretch of arched, Roman aquaduct as the town centre's main feature. The main Plaza was bathed in the mid-morning sunlight as we enjoyed a cafe con leche and watched the locals going about their business.

We had advised a friend, in Madrid, that we would arrive shortly after lunch and were on schedule as we reached Las Rozas. We had not planned, however, on the 90 minute search for our hotel. Neither the map, dos Tom or the locals were able to help us locate it. After circling the area, with eyes peeled, and a great deal of frustration, we pulled in at a petrol station where Jen asked the attendant for her help. She indicated that the hotel was a few kilometers further down the motor-way. We finally checked in at about 3:30pm and called Mike. He arrived about 45 minutes later to treat us to a quick tour of Madrid. Whilst i had spent a great many hours talking to Mike as a language partner, we had not met before. It was strange sitting beside him in the car because his voice was so familiar. We agreed the only thing missing was a headset and Skype. Considering we had never met, Mike went out of his way to help us experience Madrid. We started with a guided tour of some of the landmarks by car, followed by a walking tour, which included the central bull ring, elaborate council chambers, central park and the main train station. The station houses an amazing palm tree garden and a large pond filled with tortoises. We stopped regularly for water or an ice cream. At about 11pm we had dinner at VIPS (pronounced Bips), a great cafe/restaurant with a book store, wine store and grocery attached. We talked about our trip thus far and the road ahead before heading to a Terrace for drinks. It was so enjoyable to be sitting in the heart of Spain, with a new friend, watching the night life with a cocktail. Mike delivered us back to the hotel at around 4am. I think i fell asleep in the car - we were so exhausted. We all shook hands and said "see you on skype!".

Next morning we checked out, bleary eyed, and headed East via Tarancon to the town of Cuenca. We found a camping park set on huge, well treed, grounds which had a large swimming pool with an expansive shaded lawn area surrounding it. We set up, which took about 5 minutes now we'd had some practice, showered and hit the pool. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading and sleeping on the lawn. We turned in early in an attempt to catch up on the last night's lost sleep. I woke at dawn to the sound of a deep cowbell, and when I peered out from the tent I met the gaze of a very large black bull. I had a moment of panic, as would any matador with all but his head zipped inside a pegged tent, before it registered that we had pitched just inside the perimeter fence. When I started to climb out of the tent El toro was was panicked and did a sort of stiff jump on the spot, much like a dog does in a thunder storm, before heading away through the sunflowers. As we walked through the park, later that morning, I expected to hear the sound of trumpets and have the other campers throw flowers to note my bravery. It didn't happen. Whilst reading on the lawn we had discoved we were near the Don Quixote trail. Inspired by the story we decided to go in search of the windmills.

We rose early on the last Wednesday of August, the day of the annual La Tomatina festival.
Click here to read the La Tomatina blog

The balance of our time in Valencia was spent eating and doing a little sightseeing. At 04.00am on Friday morning we embarked on the final leg of our roadtrip, along the motorway to Barcelona. The roads were great, if expensive, and we were able to watch the sun rise as we drove. We had the car back at the airport by 10.30, as agreed, and we jumped on a train to our hotel on Las Ramblas. We spent our last evening in Spain wandering along the maze of alleys, looking in shops, watching buskers and con artist scams. We ate paella and enjoyed one last turron icecream.

Our travels in Spain were wonderful. Having a vehicle allowed us to make and change plans on a whim, and our trusty Quecha 2 second tent was perfect for setting up camp, even in the dark. We saw the contrasting colours and landscape of Spain, and learned more about it's history, language, festivals and people. From the endless open expanses of the mountainous North to the arid stretches of Spain's center, we enjoyed every moment of this trip. We can't wait to return... soon!

Posted by StephenJen 13:20 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

La Tomatina

...surviving a drive by fruiting.

sunny 35 °C
View La Tomatina on StephenJen's travel map.

We rose early on the last Wednesday of August, the day of the annual La Tomatina festival. In preparation for the event, we had hit the local carrefour to buy a couple of cheap t-shirts and some eye protection.

The traffic grew heavy as we approached Bunol. As we hit the outskirts of the town we saw hundreds of 'free-campers' who had set up on just about every square inch of space available on roadsides, vacant lots, car parks and parkland. We parked the car and started to walk into the centre of town. The air was filled with the smell of the hot breakfasts being sold by local street vendors, and the cries of "beer... one Euro!". There were thousands of people sporting all manner of outfits. We observed various national flags, a couple of guys with watermelon helmets, a group of guys painted in 'Braveheart' theme (complete with tiny plastic swords and shields), a group of girls dressed in Aussie Swimming Caps (Members of the Fanatics), an excellent volleyball helmet, and a rowdy bunch of Portuguese men chanting "Por-tu-gal!..Por-tu-gal!..." as they forced their way through the crowd towards the Plaza Mayor.

We managed to reach the halfway point along one of the avenues approaching the Plaza. We found a bit of wall to lean against and started watching the proceedings. Local home and shop owners had covered the facades of thier premises with boards and sheets of plastic. They hid on the balconies of the upper floors and darted out from cover occassionally in order to hose or bombard the crowd with buckets of water. A group of about 8 local men and women had set up a large dining table in front of their shop. The sat in suits and ate morning tea determined to withstand the constant targeting by water bombers on the upper floors. They remained there, chatting calmly, until just before the start of the event and refused to react as the crowd roared it's approval with each drenching from above.

The event starts with an open challenge to climb a greased pole and retrieve a large ham which is attached to the top. We were some distance from the main plaza, where this takes place, so were unable to witness the activity. We were alerted, however, to it's successful completion by the sounding of an air horn. This blast of the horn also announces the beginning of La Tomatina. Before too long the already packed avenue was further compressed to allow the first of the tomato trucks slow passage, and our first supply of fresh fruit with which to pelt each other senseless. The width of the vehicle was significant and, as a result, people were pressed against either side of the avenue with substantial force. For the few minutes that the truck was in front of us, it had become difficult to take a deep breath and I was fearful of receiving a future paternity suit from the girl in front of me. It was a tad embarrassing, very uncomfortable, and a little distressing for shorter folk. The wall to wall armpit reminded us that we would soon be climbing aboard the London Underground again. However this crush, unlike the peak hour tube journey, had a pay off. It allowed you to vent your aggravation through the use of controlled violence, courtesy of the drive by fruiting. Each truck contained tons of ripe red tomatoes and several people in the tilt back of the vehicle. They stopped periodically and tipped a heap of fruit on the ground and as the crowd raced to get to the bounty, the men and women perched on the sides would fire off a volley of red missiles at those below.

Most of us had equipped ourselves with eye protection, swimming or safety goggles, but they soon steamed up and became impossible to see through. This left us without any peripheral vision and open to easy attack. We soon had a combination of whole and mushed tomatoes bouncing off, or splatting against, every side of our heads. T-Shirts were also soaked in the river of tomato juice on the street and flung with venom. This had the added effect on temporarily mummifying you as it wrapped around your face and head. We had not forgotten the early attacks from the residents and took aim for the gaps between their protective plastic sheeting. They returned fire with buckets and hoses. The whole tomatoes ran out and the fight would abate for a while, until trucks arrived with fresh ammunition. They did so on 3 or 4 occasions and, after about an hour, a final series of blasts of the air horns signalled the ceassation of the day's hostilities.

We took the opportunity to remove our steam and tomato filled eyewear and survey the area. Everyone was covered from head to toe with seeds, skin and tomato flesh. A river of juice and pulp flowed along the avenues as we embarked on the challenge of getting out again. We saw a break in the sea of people and joined the exiting throng. BAD IDEA... there was a crush of drunken men pushing from every side. Jen was constantly shoved around and was only just managing to keep her feet. I pity anyone who fell because they would have been trampled. A girl next to us was very distressed and looked ready to pass out. We had worked our way to the edge of the crowd when a couple, seeing our predicament, reached in and grabbed us, and the distressed girl. They pulled us to the safety of the wall, much like being rescued from a river torrent. It was a relief to only be taking soggy T-shirts to the head again. What a debarcle. We caught our breath and then started laughing, with relief, before stockpiling knotted, soggy shirts for a revenge fuelled volley at the next group of drunken louts. Our stress levels abated with every successful face shot. The rest of the crowd joined in and one loud, muscle bound, moron was pelted mercilessly... ahhh, rough justice never tasted better. I could hear Robert Duvall in my mind "I love the smell of tomato in the morning".

Our next challenge was to find somewhere to clean ourselves up and change into some clean clothes for the drive back to our hotel. We had rented a Seat Ibiza and assumed Europcar would prefer it returned without the bolognaise. It had quietened down considerably when we tagged onto the crowd leaving the avenue for the main square. People were splashing, jumping, sliding and sitting in the river of tomato juice. Many people were heading down a hill towards a narrow stream in order to rinse off. We joined them and, after a trecherous climb down the slippery bank, were washing off the morning's ripe red coating. It was only then that we detected the faint smell of sewerage. We looked in horror at those immersing their heads in the water and decided that, as we had escaped death by tomato, it would be a shame to subsequently die of hepatitis. We scrambled up the hill and joined the end of a long line which had an old couple, with garden hoses, at the other end. Mrs Gardenhose was giving everyone a powerful spray of water from head to toe. She had an excellent technique and was very efficient. She was obviously a veteran and was racing through eager participants. Her husband was somewhat less efficient. He was far more laboured and took his work very seriously indeed. Particularly long female legs and bikini tops. I drew the short straw and received only a cursory squirt from Mr garden hose. Whilst showering later at the hotel, I flushed a large chunk of tomato from the inside of my left ear. I should have worn a bikini top!

We had intended to clean up our clothes and shoes but it was clearly not going to be possible. Our Keens and Salomons, along with clothing, was confined to the garbage bin. We were certain we smelt strongly of Tomato, but later surmised that we had bolognaise sinusitis. Our skin was perfect though... because we're worth it.

La Tomatina is held annually, on the last Wednesday of August, in Bunol. You can find reasonably priced accommodation around Valencia and it is easy to travel to Bunol for the event. There are a host of activities on the preceding night and also the day/night of the event. Live entertainment and plenty of food and souvenir stalls. It is intense, a real challenge to those who need some personal space, and enormously enjoyable. Give it a go if you ever get the chance, but wear shoes you are happy to throw away afterwards and bring eye protection. We had a blast and hope to do it all again some day.

Pre-fight Bravado

Volleyball Helmet = Stylish and Protective

The locals are protected by plastic Sheeting...

...and they attack the crowd with a barrage of water bombs

The calm before the storm

The tomato truck arrives

We survive the first volley

The sea of tomato pulp

The guy in front of us takes a soggy T-shirt to the head

The crowd prepares for the next wave

Trouble starts as a real fight breaks out

The first re-supply truck arrives

...and the food fight continues

El hombre está en la sopa de tomate

Clean... almost.

Climbing down to the El Stinko river

Mr & Mrs Gardenhose (note: Mr GH is far less interested in his current male client and prefers to gaze at the bikini he just hosed)

The post fight street party begins

The First Truck Arrives

La Tomatina 2009-The Worlds Biggest Tomato Fight

Post Tomatina Street Party feat. The Coolest Dancer In The World

Posted by StephenJen 06:00 Archived in Spain Tagged events Comments (0)

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 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


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


Posted by StephenJen 23:16 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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