Every country you enter is always slightly different from the last. As you cross the border, it’s generally the houses you notice first, maybe the landscape or how the villages and towns are formed and as I have said before, it’s really just a line in the earth.
Entering Spain was no different, the houses changed to quarry black, the soil drier, in places quite barren and the hills became rockier. As we crossed the sun came out and the frosty temperatures of France soared to 17°. Only thing for it – we immediately stopped on the side of the road for a picnic in the sunshine.
In the distance we could see the peaks of the snowy mountains but they seemed so far away. At one stage we actually drove through a tunnel for 5 kms under a snowy topped mountainside and we both said, “Well that’s the end of the snow”.
How wrong were we as this scene greeted us on the other side.
Lucky for us the roads were clear and we could enjoy the snow without fear of sliding off it!!!
Feeling that we weren’t done with The Pryenees yet, we headed for the Spanish mountain town of Benasque. The scenery was just gorgeous along the way and it was such a pleasurable drive – even if it was a slow journey.
Benasque is surrounded by mountains and if we thought the temperatures in France were frosty, we needed to rethink the whole frosty thing. It was around this time that we discovered our gas was getting low. To be exact, in the middle of shampooing my hair the gas run out, and when it’s 2° outside, the last thing you want is a cold shower. The only thing for it was to head to town in search of hot coffee and lentil soup and all for the grand sum of 10€.
The funny thing about Spain is they don’t appear to keep regular hours so you can arrive in a town and think you’ve entered a ghost town. No one is around, all the shops are closed, everything seems deserted. You go back to your motorhome and then 2 hours later at say 8 o clock at night, the shops open, the streets come alive and people are heading out to dinner.
We had a lovely, if somewhat cold time in Benasque, finding warm cafes to hang out in and drink cheap coffee and eat cheap pastries. Did I mention Spain is cheap? We even filled our gas bottle in the town for 14€!! Doug kept trying to hand the service station guy 40€ because the price seemed wrong.
From Benasque, we headed to investigate the little villages of Cerler and Anciles. Cerler is obviously the ski resort area and everyone was getting ready for the season with a fresh dump of snow overnight.
Our drive that day was toward The Ordesa National Park area which sounded like it was “The Grand Canyon” of Spain. After a little bit of detouring and deciding that perhaps the road we were on was not suitable for a motorhome, we settled on a mid route track, not highways but not mountain goat tracks either. At times, I felt like we were climbing up into The Nevada Desert and imagined The Navajo Indians coming out to shoot us with their bow and arrow. Yes I do know we are in Spain but that’s what it felt like.
The drive was insane. Like honestly – I know you shouldn’t start a sentence with like – BUT it was insane. By the end of it I had tears in my eyes from such beauty.
We stopped in a mountain village where we read a sign saying “Bar” but there was no one around so we just had a nosy through the village and carried on our journey.
I had heard about “Guardian Dogs” before but never seen any on our journey. So they use Guardian Dogs to mind the flocks of sheep and guard them from predators such as wolves. They live in the paddocks as part of the herd.
I had also heard about the Shepards that basically drove their sheep for 6 months of the year in search of greener pastures. Well we found both in the mountains of The Ordesa Valley. These little, old weathered men and their dogs droving their sheep along the road in search of grass.
Apparently once upon a time the job of Shepherd was given to the simple minded in the family, however it’s a dying art, as most Shepherds never married and nothing has been past on. In the Ordesa Valley the Shepards are paid well in a deal struck with The European Union as 2 decades ago brown bears were introduced into The Ordesa from Slovenia and now the flocks need protecting from them. Fascinating stuff but what a hard life.
The other highlight of our day, (our day where we drove 20 kms and it took 9 hours), was rounding a corner to see Vultures circling on the road above us. At least 5 or 6 of them and they are huge, ugly creatures but incredible. Sorry the photos terrible it was hard to get a good shot.
We made it to Torres Ordesa that evening which is a hiking town and had planned on hiking the next day but we woke to torrential rain and we are just not prepared for such conditions. We need to invest in some winter coats and waterproof pants.
We had planned to head further into the mountains however with so much snow around we detoured towards Pamplona. Actually, we then saw a signpost for The San Juan De La Pena Monasteries, so we detoured just a wee bit further into the mountains again to take a tour.
Legend has it:
” The legend tells that during the 8th century, San Voto was hunting a deer in San Indalecio meadow when the deer fleeing for its life jumped over the cliffs. San Voto and his horse couldn’t stop in time and followed the deer down the precipice.
As he fell he whispered a prayer to John the Baptist and miraculously the horses fall was slowed, both landed gently and were saved. Voto couldn’t understand what happened and felt very surprised when suddenly he founded a path and he decided to follow it. What was the surprise when he founded the Juan de Atarés‘s corpse and a little chapel dedicated to St John the Baptist.
Then all became clear for him. It was a miracle by St John the Baptist that saved his life. From that moment his life was spent in thanks the saint. He headed back to Zaragoza to tell his brother what had happened and they came back together to build a little church in his memory in the same place where he founded the Juan de Atarés’ chapel and they lived here together”.
Below are tombs of famous kings found inside the Monastery.
After such a detour,we didn’t arrive in Pamplona till late in the afternoon and it was raining so we decided just to chill in the motorhome. Thanks to our Park4night App, we found the perfect parking within a 5 minute walk of the old city with electricity all for 10€. Doug has raved about it ever since.
I cooked dinner and by that time the rain had stopped, being Saturday night, we headed off to explore Pamplona. What a carnival atmosphere that greeted us. Bands playing in the street, people everywhere flowing out of the bars onto the streets. Most of Europe has pavement drinking the civilized way, tables and chairs – but here in Pamplona there is no such thing. People wander out of the bars and down the street with their glasses in hand, sitting in doorways, leaning against water fountains. We expected to see glasses and bottles everywhere the next day but the place was washed clean.
Part of coming to Pamplona for me was inspired by the Movie, The Way which tells the story of St James Way or The Camino Santiago Compostella. For those of you that don’t know about it, The Compostella is a pilgrimage walk from France to Spain taking in the way St James went all the way to Santiago Compostella. It’s an 800 km walk or pilgrimage through the countryside staying in the villages and towns along the way. Pamplona is on the route and even this far into winter, there were still walkers in the town last night. I have always wanted to do the walk but just incase we never do, I have experienced some of the route, even if it was in a motorhome.
The next morning we awoke late but even then it was too early for Spain, so we wandered the empty streets until life stirred before heading in search of coffee and pastries.
Being in Pamplona is so much more than bull running, even if it is a big part of it’s history. The old city is heavily fortified and over the centuries strengthened to withstand the advances in weaponry that the enemy used. As a result quite a Citedal was created. However after centuries of war, peace prevailed and in the early 19th century the population of Pamplona had expanded so much so that parts of the wall were knocked down and the city developed past the Citadel into what it is today.
Of course Pamplona is about the running of the Bulls and the bullfighting so it was fitting that we took a tour of The Arena with an audio guide in English and for 6€, we thought it was a bargain.
I’m not sure how I feel about the whole bullfighting thing. The whole thing is pretty gruesome and then there are the bullfighters on horseback but it’s tradition and a huge part of the Spanish culture all the same.
This is the room where the bullfighters prepare in and this is the Chapel they prey in just before the fight.
From here we went in search of our own Chapel or Cathedral – The Pamplona Cathedral which is really special.
Now you cannot come to The Basque Country and not eat Pinxhos so that’s what we had to do. Terrible hardship that was and a fantastic end to our day.
We are now on the road to Burgos right through the Camino route but thats for another day.