An Epic Road Trip

25 Nov

We have covered a lot of ground this week.  It started in the Charentes on Monday.  We had a farewell lunch with John and April as well as packing and getting the house ready for John and Gaye’s return (yes, I know, two different Johns makes it confusing).  In the end we were finished early and that was just as well because John and Gaye arrived about an hour and a half ahead of schedule.  It was 19h00 when they pulled in and I went outside to move our car and it already had ice on it.

In John and April's shed - a set of racks once used for drying wine bottles.

In John and April’s shed – a set of racks once used for drying wine bottles.

The bottles are all hand made.  When stood on a flat surface they typically lean to one side!

The bottles are all hand made. When stood on a flat surface they typically lean to one side!

In the morning we hit the road at 10h30 after debriefing with John and Gaye, hearing a little about their trip and saying goodbye to Archie and Daisy (the cats).  Our first stop was Bordeaux and although it was cold the weather was quite sunny.  We parked fairly centrally and walked through some of the older parts of the city before it was time to head to our hotel.

The water mirror at Bordeaux.  We had seen this on a recent TDF and were lucky to have parked not too far from it.

The water mirror at Bordeaux. We had seen this on a recent TDF and were lucky to have parked not too far from it.

Looking back towards the Place de la Bourse.

Looking back towards the Place de la Bourse.

The Porte Cailhau if I recall correctly is the best preserved of the gates to the city of Bordeaux.

The Porte Cailhau if I recall correctly is the best preserved of the gates to the city of Bordeaux.

This was one of a series of sculptures that we came across.

This was one of a series of sculptures that we came across.

All the statuary from this fountain, and there was a lot of it on both flanks, disappeared during WWII and was rediscovered in Angers safe and sound a couple of years later.

All the statuary from this fountain, and there was a lot of it on both flanks, disappeared during WWII and was rediscovered in Angers safe and sound a couple of years later.

We had to scrape a good layer of ice off the car windows on Wednesday morning before driving to Arcachon for a quick look at the coast.  The day started cold, clear and still but on the coast the breeze made it feel very chilly.  La Teste-de-Buch is actually a bit south of Arcachon and is a summer holiday spot where good friends of ours have spent some family time but at this time of year it is very quiet.  The area from Arcachon to Biarritz down the coast is flat and largely covered in pine plantations.  Reminiscent of driving from Rotorua to Taupo or up around the Kaipara Harbour.

Us at the beach at Arcachon!  It was too cold to do much else.

Us at the beach at Arcachon! It was too cold to do much else.

The weather was a bit stormy by the time we arrived in Biarritz in mid-afternoon and we ended up in a bar ducking for cover from the rain.

It was windy and the sea was well stirred at Biarritz.  All the same, some hardy surfers, about a dozen of them, ventured out in the short time that we were watching.

It was windy and the sea was well stirred at Biarritz. All the same, some hardy surfers, about a dozen of them, ventured out in the short time that we were watching.

Most people take photos of this island/rock from the other side as an icon of Biarritz.  That looked like rubbish with the stormy and rainy conditions so I tried this.

Most people take photos of this island/rock from the other side as an icon of Biarritz. That looked like rubbish with the stormy and rainy conditions so I tried this.

Looking back towards to little island with the protected marina in the foreground and the Grande Plage and city in the background.  Being exposed to the Atlantic Ocean they must get some huge storms hitting here, hence the fortified marina!

Looking back towards to little island with the protected marina in the foreground and the Grande Plage and city in the background. Being exposed to the Atlantic Ocean they must get some huge storms hitting here, hence the fortified marina!

Looking south down the coast as it started raining.  Time to put the camera away I think.

Looking south down the coast as it started raining. Time to put the camera away I think.

It was only a 45 minute drive from Biarritz to San Sebastián in Spain on Thursday morning and we had plenty of time to look around before finding a tapas bar for lunch.  The place seemed to be a locals type of haunt, everything seemed to be €2 whether it was a glass of wine or items of food.  For some reason there was also sand scattered on the floor.  We did a bit more exploring after lunch and before heading onwards to Pamplona.

The beach at San Sebastián is protected by an island in the centre of the bay's entrance.  Part of the island is on the left in this shot.

The beach at San Sebastián is protected by an island in the centre of the bay’s entrance. Part of the island is on the left in this shot.

The weather was not too much better at San Sebastián on Thursday.

The weather was not too much better at San Sebastián on Thursday.

But San Sebastián does have a nice beach.

But San Sebastián does have a nice beach.

We found a charming little tapas bar for lunch with an owner who was more than likely a bit of a character.  The food was great and cheap too.

We found a charming little tapas bar for lunch with an owner who was more than likely a bit of a character. The food was great and cheap too.

Stopped a couple of times on the way from San Sebastián to Pamplona to take photos.  At the second stop we saw seven large birds of prey soaring and we think they were Griffin’s Vultures.  This was quite high up at the exit of the last tunnel we were to pass through.  We got hurried back to the car by the worsening weather and just as we got in sleet started falling.  We had seen a snowplough standing with its engine running at the first stop.

On the way from San Sebastián to Pamplona we made a couple of photo stops in the hills.  This is overlooking the village of Berastegi.  There was no other reason for the shot than I liked the scenery and the autumn colours looked so intense.

On the way from San Sebastián to Pamplona we made a couple of photo stops in the hills. This is overlooking the village of Berastegi. There was no other reason for the shot than I liked the scenery and the autumn colours looked so intense.

Our second stop.  That is the direction we are heading.

Our second stop. That is the direction we are heading.

Less than ten minutes later and the weather is closing in.  By the time we got back to the car there was just a small amount of sleet falling.

Less than ten minutes later and the weather is closing in. By the time we got back to the car there was just a small amount of sleet falling.

After arriving in Pamplona we walked into the old city under threatening weather.  Luckily I had a plastic shopping bag for the camera because I was not carrying my camera pack.  We explored for a while and saw where the bulls are released from for the annual running.  The the rain finally chased us towards shelter.  It was way too early for dinner so we stopped for some tapas and wine.  After that we started wandering again but only got 15 minutes before the rain was a problem again.  Later we stopped for dinner and to shelter from the rain at Café Iruña.  This is meant to have been a favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway’s.  The food was delicious but we only had one dish each as this was our second stop for the evening.

Friday was spent further exploring Pamplona and clocking up over 20km on foot.

Since we were in Pamplona I had to show you this photo.  The red sign down there identifies this as the start of the annual running of the bulls.  I assume that the small car park with the big rails is a holding pen.

Since we were in Pamplona I had to show you this photo. The red sign down there identifies this as the start of the annual running of the bulls. I assume that the small car park with the big rails is a holding pen.

Once released they head off up the street past the coach.

Once released they head off up the street past the coach.

This shot was an hour later and it is dark.  The weather was a bit wet so we sheltered in a bar (sampling their wares of course!) until it was clear enough to wander again.  This rotunda is in the Plaza del Castillo.

This shot was an hour later and it is dark. The weather was a bit wet so we sheltered in a bar (sampling their wares of course!) until it was clear enough to wander again. This rotunda is in the Plaza del Castillo.

The Plaza del Castillo again.

The Plaza del Castillo again.

The interior of the Iruña Café was magnificent and their tapas selection was very good too.  Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway used to frequent the place.

The interior of the Iruña Café was magnificent and their tapas selection was very good too. Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway used to frequent the place.

The Town Hall looking great.

The Town Hall looking great.

The walls of the old town were heavily fortified (often to defend against the French!) and the defences were continually upgraded to deal with new threats.

The walls of the old town were heavily fortified (often to defend against the French!) and the defences were continually upgraded to deal with new threats.

France Gate - Pamplona is on one of the main routes of the El Camino de Santiago.  The pilgrims enter the city through this gate.  The chains and drawbridge are original from construction in 1553.

France Gate – Pamplona is on one of the main routes of the El Camino de Santiago. The pilgrims enter the city through this gate. The chains and drawbridge are original from construction in 1553.

I should have included something to give this context; this sculpture is about 1.6m tall.

I should have included something to give this context; this sculpture is about 1.6m tall.

A street view in Pamplona.

A street view in Pamplona.

Another one but more colourful and not atypical in Pamplona

Another one but more colourful and not atypical in Pamplona

Another street not far from the bullring (not on the path of the bulls).

Another street not far from the bullring (not on the path of the bulls).

The Pamplona bullring seems to have undergone a capacity expansion with a modern upper layer.

The Pamplona bullring seems to have undergone a capacity expansion with a modern upper layer.

I don't know what the banner is about but this is the entrance to the bullring and the end of the road for the bulls.

I don’t know what the banner is about but this is the entrance to the bullring and the end of the road for the bulls.

The food line up at the bar where we stopped for lunch.

The food line up at the bar where we stopped for lunch.

Back in Plaza del Castilla in the daytime.  A little too much ripple on the water for a good reflection shot.

Back in Plaza del Castilla in the daytime. A little too much ripple on the water for a good reflection shot.

We left Pamplona on Saturday at about 10h00 heading for Lerida.   The roads most of the way were péage (French toll road) standard but without the toll.  There was a section of 60~80km in the middle that was the old slow road but it was very scenic.  Didn’t stop to get out and take photos because of the usual difficulty with finding a suitable spot and also because it was blowing like crazy, easily 50kph. Luckily it was blowing with us.  The final new section of highway approaching Lerida was over 100km of very new construction.

Not much further along the road and this unfolds before us.  The photo struggles to do it justice; on the rightmost rock column there is a separate sliver standing like a dagger.

Not much further along the road and this unfolds before us. The photo struggles to do it justice; on the rightmost rock column there is a separate sliver standing like a dagger.

Only another couple of kilometres and now on the sunny side of the rock formation.  The village of Riglos is nestled near the base.

Only another couple of kilometres and now on the sunny side of the rock formation. The village of Riglos is nestled near the base.

An example of some of the beautiful scenery between Pamplona and Lerida.

An example of some of the beautiful scenery between Pamplona and Lerida.

We drove up an unmarked gravel track to take the previous photo and at the side were these retired road markers.  It was nearly noon and there was still ice on the puddles!

We drove up an unmarked gravel track to take the previous photo and at the side were these retired road markers. It was nearly noon and there was still ice on the puddles!

Once in Lerida we walked into the town and found the elevators to get up to the hilltop cathedral and castle.  We spent a couple of hours up there including watching the sun set (17h30).  Went back down to the town at about 18h30 which was now full of life but the main strip was all fancy boutiques so it took a while to find somewhere to even get a glass of wine.  After having that we searched for food but didn’t find anything of interest.  Back at the hotel we got directions to the quarter where all the restaurants were meant to be but it was underwhelming.  We were looking for something like we had enjoyed in Pamplona – a bar with tapas/pintxos lined up on the counter. We were disappointed and ended up in an overpriced pub.  It seems that style of food is not here, you have to order everything off the menu.  We had very much enjoyed our food experiences in San Sebastián and Pamplona.

The bridge an elevator that got us up to the Castle and cathedral in Lerida.  Just exiting the lift there is a viewing platform that allows a great view over the countryside.

The bridge an elevator that got us up to the Castle and cathedral in Lerida. Just exiting the lift there is a viewing platform that allows a great view over the countryside.

Everywhere we looked around here there were Catalan flags - on proper flagpoles and draped out of apartment windows.

Everywhere we looked around here there were Catalan flags – on proper flagpoles and draped out of apartment windows.

The site was huge - the castle in the background and the entrance to the cloisters on the right.

The site was huge – the castle in the background and the entrance to the cloisters on the right.

There was an uninterrupted 360˚ view from the top of the hill in the centre of Lerida.  This was taken not long before sunset (36 minutes) and the snow is tinted pink because of that.

There was an uninterrupted 360˚ view from the top of the hill in the centre of Lerida. This was taken not long before sunset (36 minutes) and the snow is tinted pink because of that.

The business end of the cathedral in the late sun.

The business end of the cathedral in the late sun.

Sunset was 17h31 and this was 17h15.  I changed to my 300mm zoom lens with CPL to get some shots of the snow.

Sunset was 17h31 and this was 17h15. I changed to my 300mm zoom lens with CPL to get some shots of the snow.

Most of the lower areas in shade but still sun on the mountains.

Most of the lower areas in shade but still sun on the mountains.

The view goes forever in the other directions as well.  This is 7 minutes after sunset.

The view goes forever in the other directions as well. This is 7 minutes after sunset.

Another shot of the cathedral tower but now under artificial lighting.

Another shot of the cathedral tower but now under artificial lighting.

Back down in the main shopping precinct the place was coming to life.

Back down in the main shopping precinct the place was coming to life.

We left Lerida on Sunday morning and drove again parallel to the Pyrenees foothills through some beautiful scenery including Montserrat in the distance.  We were in the centre of Girona by 14h30 but the shadows were already long so getting good photos was a challenge.  Girona has a huge cathedral and to make it even more imposing it is situated on the top of a hill.  Check it out on Wikipedia.

A pedestrian bridge into the old town part of Girona with the cathedral on the hill above.

A pedestrian bridge into the old town part of Girona with the cathedral on the hill above.

Same bridge, different angle.

Same bridge, different angle.

There are a lot of steps to get up the the entrance to the cathedral and even when you get there it is still a very tall structure.  Wikipedia tells me that the main part is 45m tall.

There are a lot of steps to get up the the entrance to the cathedral and even when you get there it is still a very tall structure. Wikipedia tells me that the main part is 45m tall.

I left it too late to do these shots along the river and the contrast went ballistic as the sun dropped low.  Still, it is a pretty location.

I left it too late to do these shots along the river and the contrast went ballistic as the sun dropped low. Still, it is a pretty location.

Note to self - plan shots better in future taking care of the available light!

Note to self – plan shots better in future taking care of the available light!

The sun is gone, just some pink clouds left.

The sun is gone, just some pink clouds left.

Back at the bridge after dark.

Back at the bridge after dark.

And now for something completely different…

I have decided to start a new themed collection - park benches, wherever they are.

I have decided to start a new themed collection – park benches, wherever they are.

Another instalment in the newly launched park benches series.

Another instalment in the newly launched park benches series.

So that is a slightly cryptic account of our week travelling down the western side of France and across the northern part of Spain.

2 Responses to “An Epic Road Trip”

  1. Jeff November 30, 2013 at 22:31 #

    Haha! Just for a laugh I am reading this on a sunday at home instead of a Monday at work.. 🙂

    • bikernz November 30, 2013 at 23:05 #

      That’s a problem then… how are you going to fill in your Monday morning?

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