Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nice to Alpe d'Huez

Phew, quite a long day. Traveling around France isn't that far, it's just really time consuming.

At the start of every town there is a road sign with the name of the town on it and at the end of each town there is another road sign with the name and a diagonal line through it indicating that you have now left the to town behind. I really wanted to get a photo of the exit sign for Nice but I must have missed it. I did however find the following sign; now which way would you run?

I would have liked to have spent another day or so on the riviera but we have at least had a taste and it's been pretty good. I quite enjoyed the vibe of the hostel which is by and large populated by people that could almost be our children. What a strange thought!

Caron didn't sleep too well last night because there was only one blanket and she was that inbetween temperature where you aren't cold enough to get up and do anything about it but you aren't actually warm. I slept like a log. We had a long chat with the hostel owner who recommended that we take a look at Entrevaux on our way up which, although we knew it was going to be a long day, we did. We don't regret it either.

The picture below is of Entrevaux, the town itself is a walled village at the bottom of the hill and the fort on top of the hill is reached by a series of switchbacks which was enough effort doing it once. I wouldn't want to do it every day or worse, multiple times a day.

The walled city is amazing and looks to be relatively un-touristy and actually exists as a town rather than a tourist attraction. Generally, the houses are four or five stories high with very narrow streets between them. Caron couldn't resist putting her head inside the one and only church and it was pretty ornate and lavishly decorated.

At the top of the hill, inside the citadel, are the most awesome views up and down the valley. It seems that historically this town, along with a half dozen others control the access points over the alpes and into italy so at one time it would have been quite an important town. Around the bottom of the citadel were jails which shared the same views that today people pay small fortunes for. The cells all had sloping beds for some reason and a small hatch through which food could be passed so that the door didn't need to be opened all the time.

From Entrevaux we set course for Grenoble which is quite close to Alpe d'Huez and we learnt something more about driving in France, sometimes the passes are still closed even though it is already summer. The first pass we were intending going over turned out to be closed so we wasted about an hour driving up and then all the way back down although I didn't think it was such a waste since it was such a beautiful drive. The valley that one drives up has narrow gorges that then open out to flat bottomed valleys with the obligatory picture perfect town and then the next gorge. Caron was taking a little strain on some of the roads which were very windy and just a little precipitous. The photo below shows a strange arrangement where the one side of the road goes through a narrow tunnel and the other goes around the outside of the ridge.

Once we had finished the detour, the second of the day, it was all the way to alpe d'huez where we arrived at 19:00 having started driving at 09:00. We stopped briefly for lunch and to buy some pastries. I had a custard slice which was very tasty but by the time we finished driving I was coming off the sugar high as well as being quite tired from the drive so I sat quietly with my book and some wine while I unwound.

This is the view from the front of our tent, pretty amazing!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Monte Carlo

Busy day because we really need to get going up to grenoble and chamonix if we are to make it across to venice to meet andre and nicki on the 4th.

In spite of the wind and when it died down, the traffic noise, we actually didn't have a bad nights sleep. I am starting to wake up earlier and earlier which means that I am finally catching up on my sleep deficit which is about time, after all - it has only taken a month! We hummed and ha'd about what to do and eventually decided that the wind was too much and that the hostel in Nice which is a converted monastery would be a nice change of pace. Not only would it be windproof but we would be rubbing shoulders with the backpackers, a group we really haven't spent any time with at all.

We arrived and managed to get a twin room for 54EUR which is really basic, two beds and a shared bathroom with the room next door but when I thought of a monastery I sort of had stone walls in mind but this is just like an modern, at least relatively, apartment block.

One of the recommended attractions in Nice was the Matisse museum which we located quite readily but just couldn't find any parking and after about 45 minutes of driving around and around we parked in a parkade about 1km away. Driving in Nice has to be seen to be believed. I had a car stop in a right only lane in front of me, put on his hazards and just refused to budge. I felt like giving him a nudge to get him going but in the end went around him. My road rage incident is too fresh in my memory, I need a bit more time before I do anything rash like that. The drivers do things here like pull into traffic without looking at all, stopping at any time, driving across a lane of traffic so that it is forced to stop while waiting for a gap not to mention the way that they park! It's mayhem and not to mention how rude they are; they're constantly hooting at someone or other!

Well, after finally parking we got to the matisse museum which was enjoyable although I prefer his sculptures to his painting and with his paintings, I only really like the early ones. From the matisse museum we had a bit of a walk around a franciscan monks gardens before we high-tailed it to Monaco for a bit of fun.

On the way there we had to keep on stopping to have a look at the view; it's absolutely awesome!

This is Villefranche sur Mer between Nice and Montecarlo and I would like to suggest that some family member with 10 or 20 million rand knocking around with nothing to do with it, to 'invest' in a little holiday villa there! Seeing that we have already sold Laurel and Kim for the black yacht that Caron wants, we thought that perhaps we could sell Kirsten and Heidi for the villa that we would like .....

Carrying on from there we went past the village of Eze which runs a close second to Villefranche and the view from these houses must be too spectacular for words.

Arriving in Monte Carlo we had to go to the 'Grand' which looks like below and has the decor inside to suite. Caron had to have a go at the slot machines inside and we were very surprised when she actually won some money. Being better that most at mathematics we took our winnings and ran before the odds killed us. We actually had absolutely no idea what we were doing; we just kept pressing buttons and after one set of presses we got the winning jingle.

While we were walking around Monte Carlo we saw them building the barriers for the F1 which takes place in a few weeks time so I had to have a drive with the crash barriers on both sides of the road like an F1 powered ice-cream van. Great fun but I have a suspicion that I was going around the track the wrong way and at about 1/5th of the speed.

On the other side of the Grand, the sea side, there were numerous bronze statues. This is one of them and one of the appendages appears to have been polished; we thought it was very amusing.

And of course, we had to take a photo of the yachts in the harbour which was much smaller than I expected but pretty impressive none-the-less.

The drive back was just as beautiful as on the way to Monte Carlo and reminds me a lot of Cape Town with the houses, flats and villas clinging to the steep mountainside and narrow winding roads with too much traffic on them. This place must be a nightmare during the holiday season proper.

We finally got back to the hostel through all the traffic and decided to have supper at the hostel. 15EUR for two meals and wine, now that's what I call good value and on top of that the food was really good! We sat in the common room writing, reading and eating and watching the goings on of the common room before another hostel dweller who, like us, was obviously older than the general population sat down with us. She was english and was taking 2 weeks to do what we have done in two days. Ok, we have been a little more rushed than I would like but still; 2 weeks! I think I would die of boredom but then, I suppose it takes all sorts.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Aix en Provence to Cannes

We are sitting in bed at the moment, I'm typing (obviously!) and Caron is busy reading and the Mistral is howling overhead. We're in a campsite in Cannes right on the top of the hill, the one we would have preferred was closed so this was it. I'm a bit dubious about just exactly how much sleep we are going to get but the tent doesn't really flap about, it's more the rustling of the trees above us as the wind goes back and forth. It is said that the Mistral can drive men mad and I can certainly understand why; it just doesn't stop.

Ok, so what did we do today. Well, first we went to visit the studio of Paul Cezanne which is pretty much as he left it when he died and we couldn't help but think of laurel and carons mom, both of whom are artists. The studio itself is about 50m2 but the real distinguishing feature is that the north wall is almost entirely of glass and it is about 6m high so the light that one gets in the room is a very gently natural light which, I assume, is ideal for painting. There aren't actually any of cezanne's painting at the atelier (studio) but I found it to be an interesting visit even though I'm not exactly a cezanne fan. The garden is completely overgrown with trees and has the most amazingly peaceful feel to it.

Heading out from Aix en Provence the car behaved itself impeccably, no squeals, not juddering. Lets hope this continues but i don't expect it to. I'm going to have to change the spare wheel for the front left because the tyre is starting to get just a little threadbare.

Just outside St. Tropez we drove past the most amazing olive grove and yes, the tree behind Caron really is an olive and it was only one of an entire orchard of similar sized olive trees.

Arriving in St Tropez I was expecting the yachts to be more, bigger and flashier than Capetown but I wasn't expecting anything like this. Now, this is a yacht! Eat your hearts out yacht lovers.

St Tropez is a lot like a mix between Capetown and Tobermory but with warm (I think) sea and much more expensive. We had two cups of coffee and it set us back 8EUR, yup, almost R100.00 for two cups of (robusta) coffee. It wasn't even that great a cup of coffee but it was worth it to just see what St Tropez is like.

Walking back on the quay past all the painters Caron spotted the yacht she would like ...

If you look really carefully you can just see the two sun-bronzed deck hands cleaning the yacht. I think they come with the yacht. Seeing as I can't afford one at the moment Caron was speculating on the possibility of trading Laurel and Kim for the yacht. Personally, I think she was just after the deck hands in which case I definitely need to work on my tan amongst other things like fluent french ...

On the way over to Cannes there was miles and miles of the scenery below, it's not for nothing that the area is known as Cote d'Azur

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pont du Gard to Aix en Provence

Due to the deluge yesterday I didn't attempt to go back to Arles to go to some of the places that van gogh painted so we tried again this morning. Caron wasn't interested in the walk so she retired to a coffee shop while I walked around Arles looking for the various places which were painted; some of them I found and some are gone altogether or I just couldn't find them.

On the way there we went past an audi and VW garage and decided to have another go at fixing the squealing. This garage however, spoke no english at all and it was a real battle to understand but it seems that when it was serviced in the UK, the replacement belt was from another model so the tensioner is not where it should be and is rubbing against the timing belt cover and slowly eating it away. According to the mechanic, it will make a noise but it won't break at least that is what I think he was saying! We will see.

This was the garden of the sanatorium which van gogh painted while he was a patient at one time. This was actually taken by Caron the first time that we were in Arles, I think it is better than the ones I took today.

And finally before I bore everyone, the cafe at night. This is the real cafe as it looks today.

While I was walking around I walked past a trio of girls sitting outside a cafe and I had just gone past them when I heard "Hey, he's a south african" which was enough to stop me in my tracks. After a quick conversation I carried on only to be accosted by yet another group and finally after I had finished the photographs I saw another group sitting which I approached to find out more. Turns out they are grade 11's from Rodean and St. Mary's and one of the teachers (Anne Kraus I think) happened to be from St. Mary's and taught with my mother. How is that for a small world!
I must say that it was great to be able to communicated easily; no language barrier and no accents to cope with.

Driving into Aix en Provence, the home town of Peter Mayle we were going to stay at a converted monastery but at 120EUR per night, it was just a little expensive so we ended up a quite a nice campsite next to a fast flowing river. We were both feeling like a little bit of luxury so we decided that in lieu of the night in the hotel, we would get a little dressed up and go out for a good evening meal. Well, as dressed up as one can get while camping. So, freshly shaved and with a collared shirt on and shoes that weren't boots, off we went. We parked underground at the rotunda and when we emerged, this is what greeted us.

We spent about 30 minutes choosing the restaurant and settled on 'Les Deux Garcons' or 'the two waiters' where we had an absolutely awesome meal. I really wanted to have bouillebaissie which was on the menu but you have to order it two days in advance so I settled for a fish soup with rouille. I have no idea what rouille is but it looks like mustard and tastes fantastic, especially with the fish soup. Caron had lamb and artichokes which she demolished in short order. A cup of good coffee and 54EUR well spent. Walking back down the Cours Mirabeau we had this to look at

and all the way along there are fountains in the middle of the road. This, believe it or not, is a fountain.

We had an absolutely fantastic evening and tomorrow, with a bit of luck I am going to see Cezannes' studio. At home, this would be so normal but because our life here is so very different, to do something 'normal' was just really great.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Avignon and the Pont du Gard

It rained from about 20:00 last night and only finished raining at 19:00 this evening so we have had a thoroughly miserable day from the weather point of view and the weather over here, to a large extent, determines the amount by which one enjoys the sights.

We had arranged to go paddling under the pont du gard but the weather was so miserable and we couldn't find the people that were renting the canoes out yesterday so we assumed that it had been cancelled due to the weather. We were just about to decide what to do instead when a girl walked up and wanted to know if we still wanted to paddle in spite of the rain. She was a little surprised when we said that we would like to go paddling so dressed up warmly in our jackets and raincoats we set off.

And another photo of the pont du gard taken in better weather.

And yet another with our canoe, note the complete lack of people on the actual bridge; there is normally loads of people walking backwards and forwards over the bridge. This gives an idea of the weather.

We paddled on for a couple of kilometres while the rain pelted down but fortunately we actually weren't that cold. Our feet and hands were but the life jackets, raincoats and fleeces not to mention the gentle exercise kept the rest of us nice and toasty. We met the girl just below the green bridge and pulled the canoe out. She was very interested in the olympus because it was waterproof so I think that olympus has made a sale out of this.

Although it sounds like it should be a city featured in King Arthurs "Once and future king" it's claim to fame is that it was, for about 100 years, the seat of the pope. He had been forced to relocate fom Rome due to a civil war being waged in Italy as well as political machinations by the king of France but, for whatever reason, he moved his palace. I thought that there is no chance of getting in to see the current papal palace so we should have a look at one here in its stead.

We had quite a job finding parking because it is in the middle of the old city and driving in that is a nightmare and especially so because it is so difficult to reverse and on top of that, the turning circle of the caddy isn't so great. We didn't want to park too far away because of the rain but in the end had no choice and parked outside the city walls but when we emerged from the underground parking we were on the inside! The parking has been built almost underneath the city walls. A quick cup of coffee to cheer us up and we set off for the 'palais du papes' which we found quite easily and even recognised some of the tiny roads that we had navigated around. There was one road that was so narrow that I just couldn't see how the car was going to get through so rather than get stuck and have to reverse I chickened out. The problem in these inner cities is that the roads are so close together that the gps has problems deciding what direction and on which road one actually is.

A we walked up to the entrance of the palais du papes there was a little break in the cloud which highlighted the statue on the top of the column as if to say "welcome, you have finally made it".

After all the effort to actually get there, the palais was a so, so experience. Fairly interesting but not great but they sure know how to build things big. Things like the popes bedroom has a ceiling that is about 9m above the floor; what for I can't imagine.

Driving back the sqealing from the engine compartment was really starting to annoy me, I think that it is due to the wet weather. At least I hope it is due to the wet weather. Now I remember why I don't own old cars anymore, things that don't work drive me to distraction!

Arriving back at the campsite we hid in the tent while it continued to pour with rain until about 19:00 or 20:00 when it started to lift and by about 20:30 we had some weak sunshine in the camp. It seems that everyone had cabin fever because the entire campsite seemed to be outside and walking around. It's very beautiful here when it isn't raining and one can actually be outside.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

To the Camargue and back ...

One of Carons 'must sees' has been to go to the Camargue to see the wild horses there but unfortuntely for her, there is precious little Camargue left and absolutely no trace of wild horses that we could find. Very disappointing! We did find a little bit of the Camargue that we were expecting which is a salt water marsh which looks like below.

But this was the minority of the scenery, most of it has been developed as vineyards, stud farms for bulls and horses and worst of all, holiday accommodation which looks like this which is what we had a view of while we had lunch. We got a bit sand blasted while we ate by the wind which is called the Mistral here. I don't think that it's quite as bad as Cape Towns wind because the trees are still upright but it's pretty bad nonetheless.

Not a pretty sight at all. We did however see a few flamingo's which were quite beautiful as usual. We had to take a ferry over a river in order to get to Saint Maries de la Mer which was quite fun. We had arrived on the one side and there was a queue of cars waiting for the ferryman to arrive so we decided to get a cup of coffee while we waited. As usual, our timing wasn't so good and the coffee and the ferry both arrived at the same time so we had to drink super quick and I don't think Caron even finished hers. The ferryman wasn't hanging around either, as soon as we had driven on, we were the last in the queue, the gates closed and we were off.

We also spotted mellman looking at the horses thinking "Where did all the stripes go?" and "Those sure are strange looking buffalo!"

After the disappointment of the Camargue we were off to Arles, the town made famous by Van Gogh but although he's obviously a big deal from tourism's point of view, there isn't a decent museum or history of his life or even a 'van gogh walk'. I did however buy a small souvenir which is a small book detailing his life and works which I found really interesting. I'm going to go back to Arles tomorrow and try and find some of the places he painted and take photographs from where he would have painted them. I think it could make an interesting study.

While we walked around Arles looking at the roman amphitheatre which is pretty amazing given that it is 2000 years old I took a couple of photos that seemed interesting.

A short drive and we were home to luke warm showers, a great pasta supper and a nice warm, dry and comfortable bed. Life could be whole lot worse!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Carcasonne to Nimes

I didn't have a good nights sleep worrying about home, elections, work, security and somehow things seem more ominous at 03:00 than they do once the sun is up. So today I felt a little bit sleep deprived for most of the day.

Posted some more blog at the monumentally slow internet connection available. Very frustrating, it took about 20 minutes to upload about 800k of photographs but we managed it and managed to download email and Caron did some banking so although very slow, at least we could do it.

Instead of taking the scenic route we decided to take the easy road and pay the tolls which work out at about 10EUR per 100km. In South Africa that would equate to about R750 to drive down to Durban from Johannesburg so as expensive as the tolls in South Africa may seem, they're really very cheap!

We crossed the canal du midi several times during the morning and it is quite an impressive canal which is still in use after having been built in the late 16 hundreds so it is over 300 years old.

During the trip we stopped at one of the 'services' which is the french equivalent of a one-stop but the french ones not really up to the standard of the south african ones. I ordered a 'cafe noir grande' and was surprised to get it in two cups so in effect a 'cafe noir grande' is a double expresso but served in two cups.

We arrived at the campsite without any incidents and since it was relatively early I went for a 1:30 ride. I set off in the direction of pont du gard not expecting to actually get there but it turned out to be really close so I carried on. We're going to see pont du gard tomorrow or the next day so I'll write about it then.

The attitude of motorists to cyclists here is the complete antithesis of south africa. The roads are narrower here, there are more cyclists and they don't exactly stay in single file but the french just cope with it better. So the conclusion is that it isn't actually the cyclists issue, they pretty much do as they please here; the problem lies with agressive south african driving habits. The french also cater for cyclist much more with cycle paths and such but where they aren't available, the motorists just accept that cyclists have as much right to the road as they do and cope with it and if the french can cope with it, anybody can.

The rest of the day we read, made supper and relaxed a bit. I think that we are finally starting to unwind.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rest Day, sort of ...

After the longish drive yesterday we wanted to do as little driving as possible today; it didn't quite work out like that but almost.

I started the day trying to upload posts into my blog. It took me an hour to upload 4 posts along with their photo's. iBurst, all is forgiven! Damn but things are slow around here but I suppose I should be grateful that a campsite actually even has wifi; pronounced wee-fee where the double e is short. I think the pronunciation comes from 'wi' the french for 'yes'.
After an hour my time was up so I'll try and post the two remaining ones tomorrow morning.

Today, the weather was absolutely fantastic with blue skies and hot sun all day. We spent the morning walking into 'la cite'

where we caught mellman the Cathar heretic keeping a watchful eye for the vengeful Catholics on their (successful) crusade to exterminate them.

The centre of 'la cite' is almost completely, wall to wall, tourist shops and restaurants. This must be tourist hell during the summer, I'm very glad that we're here before the main tourist season opens. Caron needed to buy a belt since she has lost so much weight since our incident that her pants are threatening to leave her exposed so we now have a very nice leather belt bought in Carcasonne!
Caron couldn't pass up the opportunity to go inside yet another basillica and found an interesting gravestone. The basillica is from the 12th century and there are skull and crossbones insignia on the grave. I must find out what they used to indicate. Maybe he died of the plague or something.

We walked back home along the banks for the canal du midi which are shaded and it is just really peaceful here. There was a guy playing the guitar to himself on the opposite bank to add to the atmosphere.

After a lunch of leftovers from last night we headed out to the nearest wine co-op a mere 10km away but the french signage leaves a lot, and I mean a lot, to be desired and we couldn't find it. We meandered around the 'montaigne noir' which is spectactularly beautiful with rolling meadows down to the valley and the snow capped pyrenees in the distance.

This is the farm that Caron would like if anyone would be kind enough to buy it for her. She would be most grateful, as would I.

Having not found the wine co-op nor any of the other open ones that were on the map of the wine route we gave up and on the way home just happened to drive right past the one we were originally looking for so we had to stop and have a taste. The region here is Languedoc and we ended up buying a couple of bottles, one to consume soon and one to keep and share with Andre and Nicki next weekend in Venice. Something to look forward to.

Arriving back at camp we spent the remainder of the day relaxing and reading in the sun while the laundry washed and before we knew it, it was time for bed. It only really gets dark here at about 21:00 which means that the evenings are really special, especially if it isn't raining!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Duilhac sous Peyrepertuse

After a fantastic nights sleep where I at one stage actually got too hot we left the B&B and set up camp in 'Camping de la Cite' which is a pretty awesome campsite. Even though the wind is still blowing stongly, our campsite is so sheltered that it is hard to tell that there is even a wind at all. It was definitely much nicer to set up camp when it isn't raining and given the price of the B&B's we might actually do this more often.

The Cathar castle of Peyrepertuse was about 75km away from Carcasonne but that is about a 2 hour drive there and another 2 hours back; the kilometres don't come easily like they do in South Africa. The drive there was very picturesque as we wound our way up into mountainous terrain from the relatively flat areas around Carcasonne; loads of vines and what looks like natural bush. It reminded me a lot of Graskop.

The Cathars were a sect which was declared to be heretics and a crusade was mounted to wipe them out which was duly accomplished but it took 20 years to do so and one of the reasons was that they had dozens of castles like the one we visited today. Personally, if it was me trying to attack these castles; the Cathars would be alive and well today!

You can just see the castle built onto the top of the cliff and the cliff on the other side of the hill is almost as bad. The castle is actually a set of two independent castles, each with their own keep and even now with it half demolished, it is an impressive building.

This was only one of a string of Cathar castles which were rebuilt by the kings of France into border forts and each castle was able to see the two neighbouring ones. In the photo below one can just pick out the one neighbour.

It is hard to capture the height and steepness of the castle but hopefully this gives some inkling of just how steep it actually was.

After visiting the castle we sat and had lunch in the parking lot and watched a couple with their two children, one very young, going up. We were discussing what a mission it must be to drag unwilling two year olds up and around a castle when they all arrived back after only 5 minutes, the wife clearly out of sorts with the youngest. They got in the car and drove off but we saw them about 15 minutes later driving back up to the castle sans youngsters. No idea what they might have done with them!

Heading back to Carcasonne we have decided to stay an extra day here so tomorrow will be a real easy holiday. We thought of everyone back home voting and we're quite sorry we didn't get to cast a vote and we can't wait for the results to come out. I'm desperately hoping for Cope and the DA to make a big impression on the ANC's majority.

On the way back to the campsite we passed through many picturesque towns, this is just one of them!

Getting back to Carcasonne, this is the view from just outside our campsite; tough life hey!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Travel day!

We, the royal we, as in i slept very soundly last night. Caron, on the other hand didn't have such a good night. One of the children in the tent next door was a bit sick and coughed and cried most of the night; I didn't hear a thing but it was enough to keep Caron awake so yesterday it was grumpy Roland and today it will be grumpy Caron. We're very glad to part ways with the campsite, it's expensive and not that great but it's the only one relatively near to Barcelona which is open.

A long days travel broken by some welcome breaks. The first part was from Barcelona up to Andorra which I have wanted to visit for some time but I've just never managed to get there. Now I know why, it's not that easy to get to. We stopped for a real lunch, hamburgers for Caron and I had trout which was okay but definitely not what one would expect of a top restaurant; which it wasn't! Andorra seems to specialise in a few businesses; from the shops on the main road through Andorra they would be banking, perfume, electronic goods, fuel, jewelery/watches and of course cigarettes. Basically any goods that would attract large taxes either in France or Spain. The fuel here is 0.78 which is 0.10 cheaper than in spain and 0.25 cheaper than in France so no wonder Andorra is know for smuggling.

We had lunch while we waited for the bank to open at 15:00; this lunch siesta thing is really actually quite annoying but when it did open we exchanged our travellers cheques which we have been having some trouble in cashing and were pleasantly surprised that we didn't have to pay commission. In Las Ramblas, Western Union wanted to charge us 8.1%.

There seems to be only one town in Andorra and this is it.

Just behind where I took the above photograph was this sculpture which just made me think of the obvious Queen song!

The road from here on climbed and climbed into really snowy territory until we left via a long tunnel; I would say about 3km to add to the 5km tunnel we went through to get into Andorra. Quite amazingly tunnels.

One way down, the road ahead looked like this but once we hit the bottom of the valley the weather lifted and for a period it was really nice, we even saw the sun.

Unfortunately this didn't last and we drove through a monster storm just before Carcasonne where we were going to camp. We couldn't find the one campsite and the other was closed so we ended up at a small B&B which is proving to be a real win, it sure beats setting up camp in the rain. Just having a little luxury is hugely amplified due to the camping experience.

Although the auspices weren't great at the beginning of the day, Caron hasn't been grumpy at all today.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Gaudi' Day

Not the greatest day of the trip but not because of what there was to see and do, I think the stresses of the last few weeks before we left combined with the normal travel stress have started to come out so I was like a bear with a sore paw. I have a headache which just won't go away, I think I've had it for three weeks now; it's not bad but it's there and it's really annoying.

Ok, started the day by going to see Sagrada Familie which was the church which Antoni Gaudi was working on when he died in an accident. It is like no other church which one has ever seen and as impressive as it is from the outside, the 11EUR to go and have a look at it inside is well worth it. They're actually still building it 120 years later and it is being built by public subscription which would be a fairly amazing concept in South Africa. Because of the length of time, one can see the architecture change so I'm not sure how much is or isn't Gaudi's creation but I assume that the overall plan has been kept in line with what he envisioned.

This is the view from the front of the church and Gaudi was obviously fascinated by geometry because just about everything is elipsoid, round, triangular and square and endless variations on these themes. One of his distinguishing features was his love of everything not vertical, not square, round and flat and it gives his creations a beauty that is almost other worldly.

His trademark mosaic's with glazed pottery was, I think, derived from the Moors but the way that he has used really has to be seen in real life. Photographs just don't do it justice; the picture below is taken vertically upwards of the ceiling inside the church and there is mosaic work around the black holes.

The school house which now houses a sort of historical display seems to have been one of Gaudi's early creations and I found it really simple but absolutely fascinating; I don't think that there is a straight horizontal or vertical line in the entire building.

After the Sagrada and paying 6EUR for two hours parking, we went down to Las Ramblas and the Barri Gothic which is the old part of Barcelona.
After a bit of a job trying to find where we actually were, we walked up Las Ramblas which is definitely on the seedier side but fascinating and vibrant. There were lots of mime artists, gymnastic perfomers and musicians performing. the one below was particularly good, I didn't believe that it wasn't a statue at first.

From Las Ramblas we meandered through the Barri Gothic and tried to find some undergound roman ruins but they were closed so I spent some time in a square watching and listening to a musician while Caron went into the 'archives of aragon' which left me cold but Caron seemed to have enjoyed it.

While I was waiting a bicycle tour group descended on the square like a gang so the square must be famous for something, I'm just not sure what.

From there, and another 6EUR for parking, we tried to navigate to Parc Guell which is another Gaudi creation which is on quite a steep hillside overlooking Barcelona's centre and after taking yet another wrong turn we went up a hill so steep that we only just managed it in first gear.

Here's Caron in the covered walkway which made me think of breaking waves and as you can see, vertical columns were not a requirement in Gaudi's world.

The centrepiece of the park is an area supported by 89 fairly substantial columns which has a crennelated edge with a built-in, mosaic covered, seat running right around the edge. A bit difficult to photograph but Caron has done well with the one below.

While we were walking around the edge, the girl below was posing for pictures by her boyfriend so, since she was posing, I thought I would snap some too.

Driving in Barcelona gives a whole new meaning to complexity; just as an example they sometimes have traffic lights per lane so on a four lane road there would be for traffic lights, one per lane. At one stage the four lane highway split into four 'on ramps'; the GPS tells you to bear left but which left is she friggin' talking about and as it happens, it wasn't the one on the far left. The road maintenance and construction didn't help matters at all either. Even with the GPS, I managed to miss turnings fairly regularly which didn't contritbute positively to my already fragile mood.
After doing some shopping at Carrefour which is just like Pick'n Pay just bigger, we headed home quite tired. When we got back I watched a family of four children and their parents play a game of soccer while I drank some wine and calmed down; it reminded me of going camping in New Zealand as a youngster. They even have the same brand of tent that we used in New Zealand which is really a coincidence.
To end the day, I had a cold shower; not on purpose of course so I was very happy to close my eyes and draw the day to a close.