The Sun Also Sets: Spain and Southern France, Road Trip, November 2013
The most epic sunset I have ever had the fortune of driving into. I think it took over an hour for this baby to set. We’re about two hours outside of Madrid, traveling from Barcelona, in late November.
It was a fitting end to 12 days in Spain, in which Viki and I were joined by our friends Adrian and Ann from Down Under to traverse some 2,000 kilometers (approx. 1,200 miles) from Madrid to Bilbao and San Sebastian, Spain, to Lourdes and Toulouse in France, to the Northern Catalonia region, into Barcelona and back to Madrid via one last exquisite and hearty Spanish lunch in Zaragosa.
Along the way, we experienced a variety of weather (not always sunny), cuisines, languages, history and culture. That’s a lot for a road trip! We anchored the car riding part with a four-day start in Madrid and three days at the end in Barcelona. So, while I could fill this blog up with fantastic photos of two great cities, I’ve decided to concentrate on the road part of the journey.
Another fantastic trip and a part of the world covered by car.
Photo by Viki.
The first of these bulls on the hill that we saw driving from Madrid to San Sebastian got us so excited I don’t think anyone could get a camera out fast enough to snap the image. What cool artwork, we all thought. Can’t believe we missed it.
By the time we saw another one, driving back to Madrid from Barcelona, we had learned that these 46-foot high unofficial national symbols of Spain are part of long-time advertising campaign for Osborne sherry.
Wikpedia documents some 90 of these bulls still in existence, some having suffered varying degrees of vandalism over the years.
Photo by Viki.
Last night in Barcelona, we’ve got about 8 hours to sleep these off before getting in the car again and heading back to Madrid and our flights homeward. (All four of us were partaking in these little yellow drinks, so who was already gulping theirs down!?)
I mentioned in the beginning of this road trip recap that no two places we went in Spain were the same. The food was different, the architecture was different, and oftentimes, even the language was different! One area where there was consistency was in the drinks. The wine, of course, but also this limoncello-like (but way better) after dinner drink we were served “on the house” in Madrid and Barcelona.
As you do when dining in Spain, you’re having such a full-blown experience with the food, the people, the place, you forget to find out what a certain item (or two … or ten) on the menu actually is. If anyone knows the name of this liqueur (and, it appeared to be homemade in some places), please leave a note. Bonus points if you can tell me how to find some in the States.
Taking road food up a notch!
Dinner in Barcelona at Casa Calvet.
Certainly can’t compete with the typical cheeseburgers we usually post on this blog. But then Spain … and Barcelona, in particular (which we shall point out belongs to a region unto itself - Catalonia) takes eating to a whole other level.
While I could post tons of photos of the sites of Barcelona here, I remind myself that this is a road trip blog. And once we got to Barcelona, we parked our car for three days and explored the city on foot, metro and an occasional taxi. It is by far one of the most amazing places I have ever been - and I’m glad my first experience with this magical city was via my favorite form of travel - the road trip. I may not drive here next time, but I will be back.
Following a freezing night in Toulouse, and a rainy morning where we stopped to trudge through some mud to see the medieval village of Carcassonne, we ran into one of the modern road blocks of road travel - loss of free WiFi!
We were in search of a Salvador Dali musuem. The night before, some online research had brought up the town of Perpignan, in southern France near its border with Spain (i.e., Northern Catalonia). There was a certain significance to its railroad station, and surprisingly, we found the station, but not exactly the significance.
The train station was a mashup of old (like the top photo) and new (like the photos at the bottom) represented by a sad underground mall (although the street art was good). Without the Internet (and we tried many ways of connecting, but our French was not good enough to read the fine print on any service that came up demanding a few euros for limited use), we pretty much had no idea why we were here.
Fortunately, from the comfort of my home now and high speed Internet, I am able to read more about the train station at Perpignan and Dali’s connection with it. So glad we stopped - even if it meant we missed out on seeing the actual Dali Museum and spent about an hour driving around Girona looking for parking and Internet so we could book a hotel for Barcelona.
Girona looked like an interesting place, btw. More at home research reveals what we missed out on.
But such is the nature of the road and its trips. It is not about what you missed out on, it is about how much more you saw when things didn’t go as planned.
From San Sebastian it was a short drive into France. We were now in the Pyrenees.
After the light dusting of snow we experienced on the way out of Madrid, there was no way this happy group of Aussies (w/ me being the lone American) was going to explore the area by mountain roads. We headed instead to Lourdes, which, according to Wikipedia, is located “in the foothills of the Pyrenees, famous for the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes said to have occurred in 1858 to Bernadette Soubirous.”
The excited recovering Catholics in the group (w/ the exception of Viki who was raised Church of England) couldn’t wait to sink our teeth into the kitsch of Lourdes. (Having been to Fatima in Portugal, I had an idea of what to expect.)
Lourdes did not disappoint. Although it was off-season (the next feast day was coming up in December), a handful of the gift shops and restaurants were open. While I bought some candles (thinking warmth, since it was suddenly quite cold), my traveling companions all bought tiny bottles to fill with the Holy Water that flows near the grotto and can chase away your ills. When Viki’s bottle sprung a leak in her toiletries kit the night before flying home, she doused what was left on a sore hip. She claimed it made the 17-hour flight from Madrid to New York (via Frankfurt) more tolerable. A minor miracle!
To brush up on more about the Pyrenees and its spiritual nature, watch the movie The Way starring Martin Sheen. This is not purely my recommendation. There were posters for this flick posted all around the main drag of Lourdes.