19th September 2012
It has been a few days since I wrote anything. We have been very occupied with our friends, and also we have been off the Internet superhighway.
On Friday we drove from Collette’s to our friends in Vianne and visited Blaye, where there is a 17th century fortress, on route. Unfortunately, we also lost the GPS signal just outside and went round in circles trying to pick it up. We eventually did find it, of course and arrived in Vianne in time fora relaxing drink in the garden and a beautiful supper.
Vianne is walled town, called a bastide, has four gates with square towers and four round towers at the corners. You can see all four gates from one spot in the square. It was founded in the 13th century, to increase economic activity and the church is even older 11th or 12th century. The town was a centre of glassmaking, but the factory is now closed. Only one glass blower remains.
Over the weekend we visited some of the small towns and villages in the area, including Forces, which has a completely circular square, if that is possible. We also went to a really nice nearby restaurant, which has completely redeemed French cuisine. Four courses, all delicious for only 15 euro each. Really good value.
On Saturday we went to the market at Nerac, a town close by, of about 7000 inhabitants. This was the centre for king Henri IV, whose palace has but one remaining wall. There is a restaurant and a street called “Escadron Volant” (Flying Squad), which is a bit strange, until you learn that Henri was a grand womaniser, and these were the women who followed him around. The market was really fantastic, set out along most of the old streets. The stalls included bric a brac, clothes and the most wonderful selection of fruits vegetables, meats and fish.
Next step is into Spain. We have changed our original plan and now are going over the Pyrenees to a town called Jaca (pronounced hacker) a resort town for skiing in the winter. It’s quite a long stretch and we have lunch in Pau after a too leisurely start. The road starts to wind, in contrast to the Garonne plain, and cattle appear. Finally we get glimpses of the mountains and they are magnificent. Forested and eroded, there are some startlingly sharp peaks but the road is narrow and there are not many places to stop for photos. We were intending to go over a high pass rather than use the tunnel, but as we get closer the road narrows again, it would be one way in NZ, so the tunnel looks quite inviting despite being inhabited by trolls, in the form of large trucks. We take the tunnel and somewhere in the middle we pass from France into Spain.
The contrast when we emerge is amazing, the French side is lush and green and the Spanish is dry and arid with strange eroded mesa’s in the hazy distance. Jaca soon comes into view, but it looks like a small, modern resort town in the off season, so as the tunnel has saved us some time, we decide to move on to Huesca, which will put us closer to Madrid. The travel time is about an hour, but we are climbing up a great mountain range, with highway construction, so it is pretty exhausting and we check into the first hotel with a vacancy. The hotel clerk is a thin young man, who looks terminally depressed, but at least he has a job, sadly there are some aimless young people hanging about, though of course most people just get on with their lives. Parking is in a nearby building, which is old, with steep and narrow ramps and a think Our poor car is going to expire, or be horribly smashed, as it wheelspins up the fist stage (I need two go’s), but it makes it in the end. We eat, shower and go to bed exhausted. Next morning seems more cheerful as we walk round part of the old town and a lovely park, before we head for Madrid.
On to Madrid. We have programmed a toll free route, but soon find ourselves on a motorway and think “What the hell”, but the expected toll gate never arrives and it is free all the way, though some parts are still being constructed. Due to an error with addresses which is hilarious in retrospect, we take a tour of central Madrid, a beautiful city, before we realise the mistake and head for where we will stay, some 30km out, at Torrelodones.