At the end of July and the beginning of August 2009 Laura and I go on a holiday to France, Andorra and Spain. Only on the Saturday before we leave we decide to not go to Italy but to the South of France and/or Spain instead. We want to visit the Ardèche again, having been there previously in 2005. We pack on Monday and leave on Tuesday at five minutes to ten. We decide to keep on driving until there's no more clouds to be seen.
Our tent at the camping in Azé. Click on the photos for enlargement.
Near Mâcon we leave the motorway, and our first stop is in Azé (in Saône-et-Loire). When we arrive, the cash desk is already closed, but the owner, who is sitting at the barbeque with a large group of others, tells us to simply go find ourselves a spot. We find a sheltered spot, behind a bush and next to a brook. Later in the evening Laura asks where she can buy some wine. She's given a bottle without cork for free.
The next morning the sky is not quite cloudless yet, so we decide to drive on. Above that, we want to end up in the Ardèche. We leave around eight o'clock, but the cash desk is still closed. According to the opening hours they won't open until ten. Oh, well. We leave behind a tenner and a note underneath a roll-down shutter, and we leave. First we visit Cluny, which is near here.
An old church in Cluny.
There is a lot of green in the town.
Some sort of relic.
Ruins of a large cathedral in the centre, some metres below the level of the rest of the town.
Wall with flowers.
In the afternoon we drive to Dornas, and arrive there at around half past three. It is exactly the same camping we were four years ago. It has one field of grass and a small river with a dam so we can swim in it. During the day it is quite crowded, with twenty of thirty people from surrounding villages who come here for a swim and a sunbath. First we go for a swim. We have a diner of steak and fries on the camping, near the water.
When we walk back to our tent after our swim, the people opposite our spot offer us pastis. It's a group of three adults with seven children, and with two cars. The conversation is very difficult. They think I look like Andreas Vollenweider and Steve Vai, and Matthias, one of the adults, finds it very difficult to stay away from his lap-top. We sleep long this night.
Laura inflates the mats at the camping in Dornas.
The next morning we drive to Dornas to buy bread, have breakfast in Mariac, and spend some time in Le Cheylard. At two different terraces there we are not allowed to drink, only if we order a lunch too. In the afternoon we're back at the river of our camping, and that night we eat paella from a can.
Laura on a path in Le Cheylard that's covered with grapes.
On Friday we go to Montélimar. We have lunch there on a terrace with a salad Niçoise and a salad Ardèchoise. The waiter tells us how to find a camping-shop. In the centre I buy a grey vest (it is quite cold in the evenings after sunset, and I've forgotten to bring along a sweater). When we find the camping-shop, we notice it's the same one we bought a new sleeping bag for Laura at four years ago. Laura buys watershoes and sandals. On the way back we pass a shop and factory of nougat, and we visit both. The way back is long, and there's quite a traffic jam. Laura goes to bed early.
A little village.
View of several mountain ridges behind each other.
The next day we do nothing. We swim and we're lazy. We are both the first and the last ones at the river. Around two o'clock we walk to Dornas for bread, but the boulangerie doesn't open until three. We look at the church and do nothing near a privatly owned canal. On the way back we admire a Citroën Traction Avant, and the owner comes towards us to open its doors for us and to start the engine. Such a beautiful car.
I stand near a sluice in Dornas.
The basin behind that same sluice.
The church of Dornas, with Laura standing in front of it.
The river in Dornas.
This evening we eat couscous with bell pepper, artichokes and goat cheese. Our burner goes empty and Matthias lends us his. Late in the evening there's a thunderstorm, and it rains during the night. In the morning it is clouded.
We get up around ten o'clock, look at the sky, and decide to leave. We pack and we drive south at around half past eleven. Near Avignon we make a turn westward, in the direction of Toulouse. Just before Toulouse we drive towards the Pyrenees. We go in the direction of Andorra. It is high and steep here. We sense the car even has a little bit of trouble on some parts. There is a long traffic queue coming out of the country, but we don't (yet) understand why. For a long while we drive through the mist, or a cloud. When we rise above it, all of a sudden we have a wonderful view of the pass behind us.
We park the car in a hairpin bend and look back in the direction of the pass to Andorra we just crossed.
Mountain top along the pass.
Laura high up in the mountains in Andorra.
It's cold here.
There are surprisingly many petrol stations here. Our tank is almost empty, so we give it a try. It appears that it is ridiculously cheap. We find a luxurious hotel in the village of Canillo. It appears everything in this country has to do with winter sports. Many large, empty hotels, empty parking places and empty chair lifts. It looks like one big Center Parcs.
We find a nice Spanish-looking restaurant, with a bar with fluorescent light and a large number of wine bottles. The menu is in two languages, Spanish and Catalan. We order leg of lamb, and the cook shows it to us for inspection before he starts to roast it. I get the leg and Laura gets the shoulder. After diner the waiter puts two different bottles of aguardiente on the table, and we taste both. This doesn't appear on the bill (which is absurdly low).
Maybe the first time in history a Judge Smith T-shirt visited Andorra.
The view from the hotel room.
Breakfast is good and abundant, overlooking a river. There is hardly anybody here. We drive to Spain, via the capital Andorra la Vella, that appears to be a huge tax free-paradise, with show-off jewellery and perfume shops and the likes. Here and there we see large billboards with advertisements for cigarettes.
I'm eating (a part of) the Full Andorran breakfast.
We drive largely on by-roads, hoping to find a camping somewhere. But the land is barren and dry here. There is a piece of desert, then a piece of green and irrigated land. Now and then there is a deserted petrol station along the road. We drive past a car tyre that was lost by a truck that has stopped next to the road. All other cars drive past it, and the driver walks back along the road to the tyre.
We buy a map at the tourist office in Puigcerdà, but it appears to be of not much help to us. We drive through Pina, where a funeral is happening. We watch the whole village exiting the church. We also take a look at Quinto. No campings, not even a hotel. So we decide to continue on to Zaragoza.
We arrive there around eight in the evening. It is large but not hectic. The traffic is even pleasantly quiet. Despite the crowdedness we get lots of time to doubt and search. We park the car, and friendly people in the street point us further on our way to the centre. Let's first find the Ebro. We arrive at the large square, the Plaza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. We choose hotel Inca, near by the square, and we dine on a terrace on the square.
View from our room in hotel Inca.
In the hotel room.
The next day hotel Inca is booked full, and so we move in the morning to an even more beautiful hotel on the square, Las Torres. There are preparations for something that looks like the arrival or start of a bicycle race. We have breakfast on a terrace on the square. We go and see the covered marketplace, where there's a lot of fruits, meat, fish and squid (and of course sheep's heads and cow's tongues too). We walk to the bull fighter's arena, and we see many narrow streets and houses in bright colours. It is a very pleasant city.
The cathedral at the large square has colourful roofs.
The square is very large. Legend has it that Mary appeared here in the first century of the common era, standing on a pillar. Ever since there has been an abundance of pillars in the city, it seems.
I'm blocking the view from our room in hotel Las Torres.
Although the city is many centuries older than that, the oldest traces of the city like we now know it date from the Roman period, when emperor Augustus founded Caesaraugusta. Zaragoza is a later version of that same name. We go and see the large church on the square (Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar), and we climb the tower (largely by elevator) to admire the view.
An old wall in the centre of the town.
Statue of emperor Augustus.
In some places the desert starts immediately at the edge of the city.
The city in bird's-eye view.
A nun in the square.
A priest in the square.
A little boy chasing away pigeons.
In the evening we sit down at the terrace of a cheap pizza place at the square. Policemen are running by and right next to the terrace a police car with its sirens on races by. The person who gets chased runs towards us. A shady character has him trip over his shoe, and he falls against our table. The officers cuff him. Pff...! The food is cheap and tastes bad.
Later that night we sit near the fountain on the other side of the square. We are not the only ones with our feet in the water. It's getting cheerful because a busload of exuberant Italians starts to play in the water. Spaniards in general are a bit more self-restrained, we feel. At eleven o'clock the fountain stops, but the lights stay on. A while later we return to our hotel.
The square at night.
Many people are paddling in the fountain at the square.
The cathedral at night.
We have breakfast in the basement of the hotel. Today we visit the large park around the small river Huerva (which flows out into the Ebro). It is partly being rebuilt, and it's not very impressive. We walk back along the Ebro, and we have a very good lunch at a tapas-restaurant on the square. From two until four o'clock we take an afternoon nap in our hotel room (Laura reads). The temperature (every day around 34 degrees) forces us to adapt quickly to Spanish habits like siesta and late diner.
Striking differences in colour on the wall of a church.
The little river Huerva, that flows through the park.
A jet of water in another fountain.
Laura at the Ebro.
The square San Bruno.
Striking Moorish motifs on the wall of the same church.
Late in the afternoon we visit the four buildings of the museum about the Roman period of Zaragoza, one about the forum, one about the harbour, one about the baths and one about the theatre. The museums are scattered across the centre of the town, and are strikingly several metres lower than the current level of the city.
Not much of an audience at the performance.
An arch, somewhere in the city.
The Roman theatre.
Laura in the Roman theatre.
We walk back to the square and have diner at the best (and most expensive) restaurant at the square. Cod-carpaccio and lamb as a main course, with delicious white wine, and an apple-calvados ice cream desert (Laura has cakes with a chocolat sauce). Afterwards we have two coffees and one Spanish cognac.
When we are taking our money from the cash machine, I get seduced by the Irish pub. I drink a Guinness, and Laura and I are both given Guinness T-shirts for free (and I am given a cigarette).
We get up in time, and have breakfast in the hotel like we did yesterday. We leave. Laura drives us out the car park, away from Zaragoza, westward. We take the toll road in the direction of Bilbao, take a turn in the direction of Pamplona and then take the road to Irún.
Windmills. There's also a large number of solar collectors in the middle of nowhere.
After Irún we follow the direction of Bordeaux. On the map that area looked quite pretty. That is correct, but it is also very touristic. Surfers everywhere, and caravans and houses near the dunes. Nevertheless we search for a camping. It is clouded and drizzly.
After some trouble we find a very simple and nice camping, called Lili, near the house of a couple of English. It is no more than a large, empty lawn with next to it some spots to put tents between trees and shrubs. There are primitive, cold showers (using a garden hose), but also hot showers. Behind the camping is a blown down forest, and the owner tells us that a storm uprooted dozens of trees the previous fall.
We drive to the store and to the beach. It is a beautifully broad, yellow, sandy beach, and there are very high and rough waves. We tell the woman at the camping we think about staying for some nights perhaps, but later that same night there is some rain again, and the next morning is depressingly dark again.
Our tent at camping Lili near the village Mixe.
Dark, ominous sky.
A few high trees that have survived the storm.
So we decide to leave. When we pay our bill, the woman tells us that we're exactly the kind of guests she likes to have: "nice and quiet." Yesterday evening we had left behind a bottle of sweet white Sancerre we had accidentally bought, for whoever liked it. That turned out to be her.
At first we head for the area around Chateauroux, where it looks like there are numerous small lakes (Parc de la Brenne). But the weather doesn't get any better, so we decide to drive straight on to home. We arrive there at around eleven o'clock in the evening.
to the top of the page