The Happy Wanderer(The Oberkirchen School Choir)-Au Revoir, France and Hola, Spain

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March 26th 2016
Published: March 27th 2016
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The BBA V3 so far - 8th March 2016 to 25th March 2016

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Saturday and it is time to move on from France saying ‘Au Revoir’ for now ,because we will be back four more times before the BBA V3 comes to an end, and into Spain where we express a welcome of ‘Hola’.

As predicted the day has dawned fine and sunny and already at breakfast the outside temperature is 18C quite remarkable considering this time yesterday it was in mid single digits. Just what has made the temperature turn around so dramatically is unclear as we haven’t been able to see a weather situation chart for a day or two but we guess the wind has turned more southerly and that was having the warming effect.

It was time now to bring out the security chains and padlocks as we have read that unsavoury characters in Spain can get you to stop while driving by puncturing your tyre and then steals your belongings while you have unloaded the boot to get at the equipment to replace the tyre.

Unfortunately one of the padlocks won’t work properly and will need to be replaced. But the other is working perfectly and we chained our two suitcases and backpacks together and secured the chain with a digital padlock. That should make it difficult at least to try and carry our gear off in a hurry. And once we can get a replacement lock for the chain to secure everything to the anchors in the boot then we will be like ‘Fort Knox’!

A top up of petrol was required just in case it was some distance to the first petrol station once we had crossed the Pyrenees into Spain and so to avoid a drive through the narrow main street of the town to Carrefour we went in the other direction to Leclerc.

This should have been easier but the short drive had its own challenges not the least being the volume of inward traffic on the road to Leclerc’s.

Not only are the French keen on roundabouts (we reckon we have passed through over 2000 already in just under 3 weeks!)but they love pedestrian crossings and on the straight road ahead of us to Leclerc, which was about a kilometre away in the distance, we spotted at least 10 crossings and not one person crossing the road!

We also encountered an oddity for a main road as we travelled towards the petrol station and supermarket and that was a need for the main road traffic to give way to cross or entering traffic. It can be a trap for the inexperienced on this road but luckily after the first couple of give ways were missed I picked up the rest which amounted to almost as many pedestrian crossings!

With a full tank of 95 octane we were on the road with Gina navigating us by the shortest route to the N134 and the pass we had chosen to take over the Pyrenees.

The road took us in a westerly direction along the foot of the mountain range and through numerous rural villages.

We took a short stop in one of them,Bruges,a medieval town formed as a ‘bastide’ which are described as fortified ‘new towns’ with a town square and are found mainly in the south of France.

We encountered our first ‘Farmer Pierre’ here for the day. Only this time it was not while we were driving but as we were stopped looking at the buildings in the town square. So while we didn’t have to drive through the barn excrement falling off the huge trailer he was towing we did have to endure the strong pungent smell.

French farmers don’t seem to care about what they leave on the roads as they transport this poo to be spread on adjacent fields and Peggy really needs the attention of a high powered hose to her wheel hubs and undersides to get rid of some that has stuck.

We reached the N134 at Escot and our speed increased after 80 odd kilometres on narrow rural roads.

We were now heading in a southerly direction and the Pyrenees were coming ever closer as we entered a narrow valley with an ever increasing gradient.

An interesting feature apparent alongside the road was a new railway line that was being laid. It was actually a renewed line as it was later evident when the new track came to an end that the railway had run through this valley previously as the old overgrown track was still there. Presumably something is happening up this valley or through a tunnel into Spain to make the re-establishment of the railway viable, something not often seen in this day of road transport.

About three quarters of the way up to the pass we stopped for lunch in the hamlet of Etsaut.Home for a small number of people in houses clinging to the near sheer mountainside. At least the town square was relatively flat and there was a picnic area, resplendent with spring daisies in the long, lush spring grass.

The air was warm and fresh and as the nearby N134 had very little traffic on it, there was almost perfect peace from any noise, just the tumbling sound of the stream next to the picnic spot.

What an idyllic place on a warm spring day!

At most lunchtime stops there is a need to relieve one’s self and we have been fortunate up to now to have a WC close by.

However, today it was looking like we might have to hold on until we spotted what must be the world’s smallest WC effectively embedded in an old stone wall. The facility had a door but inside wasn’t big enough to have a toilet pan or for that matter enable a person to turn around after closing the door. The toilet for doing your business was a ceramic fitting in the style of an Asian toilet where there were two slightly raised places to put your feet and you either stood or squatted as best you could in the very confined space. Needless to say we both managed what we had to do!

There was no room for a tap or basin to wash ones hands so it was ‘wet ones’ to the rescue afterwards.

Lunch was much more comfortable after that and we were able to enjoy the usual spread which today included 2 Buchette Kirsch, although if they had any of the liqueur we expected in the filling someone must have forgotten it when the sweet treats were being made. They were still delicious!

Gretchen did spot a small chapel directly above us on the near vertical mountainside and for a moment I thought she was going to suggest we walk lunch off by taking the 1 ½ hour track to the chapel. Thankfully she admitted that she was only thinking about it and we should probably keep on our way towards our destination.

Before we left the hamlet we took in the war memorial to the fallen from the hamlet in the two world wars of last century.The inscription showed that there had been 18 dead in the 1st World War and 5 in the 2nd World War.

The statue appeared to resemble Stalin,the Russian leader during WW2,more than a Frenchman.Perhaps the statue had been commissioned from a Russian sculpturer who was a bit bias in the way he saw things.

We reached the point where the BBA V3 travellers had to make a decision as to whether to carry on up over the open pass Col do Somport or take the easier option of the 8.6 kilometre long tunnel that was before us. We were at 1632 metres already with snow in patches on the ground and we weren’t sure just high the open pass would be although it was obvious that there would be snow at least on the side of the road even though it would unlikely be icy given the warm sunshine even at this altitude.

This time we opted for the tunnel as we are sure there are plenty more challenges ahead for high altitude passes.

In the 8.6 kilometre tunnel we only ever had one car in front of us and only a handful of vehicles passed in the opposite direction.

The tunnel was built in 2003 and was controversial at the time as locals thought it would spoil the natural surrounds of the area and endanger the rare brown bear allegedly found in the area. A group of protesters camped for 20 years in opposition to the tunnel being built but have now moved on.

Coming out the other side the landscape changed considerably from the lush green on the French side to a more arid appearance on the Spanish side which we put down to the reason that the French side of the mountains would get more rain from the prevailing wind. There was no snow on the Spanish side at road level although looking back there was snow at higher altitude still.

Before long we were passing through the sizeable town of Jaca and turning right onto the A21 along which runs one of the several Camino Ways taking pilgrims to Santiago de Compostelo in the far west of Spain, a city we will be visiting in a week or so.

We didn’t spot any pilgrims walking the Way alongside the road but it might just have been the time of day or we weren’t close enough to the Camino Way pathway all the time.

Coming over a rise in the road and the hilled town of Berdun came into view across a flat plain. The whole town being contained on the hillock in the middle of the flat plain. Quite an amazing sight to suddenly come across.

Alongside the A21 was a road that looked like it will become the highway when it is finished although there was no machinery in sight. Perhaps the Government have run out of money for it. Spain has had some hard financial times in recent years.

Then we were suddenly on a stretch of the new highway that had only recently been completed because Gina was very confused and had no instructions for us when we came to the end of the 5 kilometres or so of new road complete with very grand viaducts built over ravines.

We came off and went back onto the new higway a couple of times before the final run into our destination at Imarcoain.

With a spaghetti junction to negotiate to the hotel we did the circuit twice because one of the turns was so close to the next turn that Gina couldn’t quite keep up with the speed we were travelling at.

The hotel which is set in a truck stop and distribution centre that looks only a few years old is a real bargain at €35 a night helping the BBA V3 accommodation budget enormously.

We took Spanish lessons 4 years ago before a trip to Cuba at the end of a holiday in the USA but we couldn’t understand a word that ‘Jose’ on reception was trying to get across to us when I had to try and remember the PIN on the travel card to pay. All through France we have had to sign for every transaction despite there being a PIN for the card which I could no longer remember! And ‘Jose’ couldn’t understand that I would sign for the transaction.

In the end we exchanged cash for the room and all was well.

Comments on had stated that there were restaurants in the area of the hotel but in fact there were just 2 and both were more like cafes.

We headed on into the larger of the two and were guided to a seat and shortly thereafter a smiling waiter who spoke some single English words gave a very brief description of the menu by using words like ‘chicken’, ‘pork’ or ‘salad’.

Not being adventurous at all we both ordered the same and we can quite honestly say we were delighted with what we had ordered even if we really had no idea what was coming for us.

The entree of salad was plentiful, the main of chicken in a tomato sauce was very tasty, and the desert of caramel on a coconut based cake was yummy.

All of this plus 2 16oz beers for €21.60, amazingly cheap and hearty!

Tomorrow is a day to visit Pamplona and with reasonable weather again predicted our rain free sightseeing looks set to continue.

PS.again you can enjoy the video of the song on Youtube as you read the blog.


27th March 2016

I've been enjoying your blogs...
and am especially looking forward to those recounting your journey along the Camino de Santiago as I will be walking the Way in September starting in Pamplona.
30th March 2016

Hi Bob,glad you are enjoying the ride with us.Weather has been perfect making the trip so much easier.Mush more to come as we work our way west and will be trying to follow the Way as much as we can except of course by car.Pamplona is a lovely city and very compact so easy to get around.

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