From Provence to Barcelona and back
April 19, 2000
10am - We are in six, four grown up and two young girls, on a brand new seven
seat van (it is on lease), with all the baggages, we are close but comfortable.
We are heading toward Ventimiglia with an undetermined destination between
Cannes and Barcellona (and to Barcelona we are determined to arrive ...).
Around 1 pm, we
reach Aix-en-Provence, an active and elegant town, even slighlty too
crowded for our taste. At the
Office du Turisme
, they propose us an
accomodation in a not too central, but pretty cheap hotel
. The town can wait, we prefer to breathe the air of
the famous Provenzal country, along the route Cézanne and toward the preferred
mountain of the painter, Sainte Victoire mountain.
The massif St. Victoire
From Aix-en-Provence we start our trip toward Barcelona and we soon reach
Catalonia. Colors have not changed very much, but the sounds are much
different. We have never heard the
and it does sound unusual.
We stop for lunch in Perpignan. The sun shines on us in this spring afternoon,
while the castle (
) is reflected in the channel and we sit down in a cafè on the Quai Vauban and
have rich sandwiches and drinks.
Perpignan, le Castillet
In the evening we are on the rambla , and, after strolling a bit, we dine in Placa Rejal, where a waiter that looks like Walter Matthau (unbelievable how many waiters resemble WM..) brings us the patatas bravas .
The Sagrada Familia:
In a splendid spring day, we immerse ourselves in the Barcelona of Antoni Gaudi. We climb to the towers of the Sagrada Familia, the imposing expiatory temple, since a long time and (perhaps) forever in construction. The front side is the work of the master and inventor and represents scenes of the Nativity. The back side is decorated with scenes of the Passion, a work by Subirachs, a contemporary Catalan sculptor. Also this work is really notable, according to my personal taste. Please put the mouse over the picture on the left to see the front and rear sculptures of the temple, then click on it if you want to learn more.
The Sierra of Cadì
Departure at dawn (around 9 am) from Grenollers for the Pyrenees. The day is just slightly cloudier than yesterday, but it always looks like spring. We reach the pass Collado de Toses (1800 m or 5900 ft) and the view that appears in front of us leaves no doubt the Pyrenees are really serious mountains. After the pass, the road goes down; we cruise along the Sierra of Cadì (a national park) between Bellver de Cerdanya and the Seu of Urguell
As soon as we cross the border of Andorra, we find ourselves plunged in huge market. This microscopic Catalan Switzerland (its surface is roughly 1/8 of our smallest region, the Aosta Valley) has an extremely simple fiscal system: no taxes, in all case, and for any reason. Here goods and money are precisely exchanged: the value of the money against the value of things. This is the paradise of private banking and of free commerce. Unfortunately (or luckily) we do not feel like shopping and we speed up away from the capital city (La Vella); besides, it is impossible to find a parking place there. We stop at a gasoline pump and we are not suprised the gas is so cheap (less a half than in Italy). We fill the tank and drive on.
Almost by chance, we reach La Massana, 1240 m (4000 ft), chief town of one of the seven parishes that compose the country, and there we quickly find lodging . Andorra was a joint feudal possession of the Bishops of Urgell and of the Earls of Foix. Later, the latter (the earls) lost their noble title, in favor of the King of France, who was replaced in turn by the President of the French Republic. The country is now governed by a Council elected by the population, but the bishop of Urguell and the French President (currently Monsieur Chirac) remain the state chiefs. The whole country is located higher than 1000 meters (3200 ft) upon sea level, with mountains and sceneries that would deserve a longer staying. While the sky starts to cover up with threatening clouds, we go for a brief excursion toward Aldosa, a slightly more elevated fraction (1253 m asl, 4100 ft) from where one can enjoy a larger view of the valley. Andorra is crossed by many rivers, called the Valiras. Under our eyes, the North Valira flows, on its way to join to the East Valira; then the two together meet with the Great Valira. In Aldosa we find how to spend the evening at a restaurant called Borda dels Padrins , which means something as "The Grandparents' Farmhouse". The cuisine is excellent, even if the foreign languages we know are not helpful here to understand the menu and we cannot avoid some mistake between goat and pig.
It is Easter Sunday and it snows. We depart bravely toward France across the
Post of Envalina (2407 m , 7900 ft) and the Pas of Casas (2000 m, 6400 ft).
There is no
alternative road, the snow is dense and high, and the average speed is 10 km per
We get to Aix-les-thermes, which is located much lower, but the weather has not
improved. There, we face an option: should we continue in the direction of Foix
the sure state road or risk taking a smaller street, much shorter, but
winding up again toward the tempestuous mountains? We choose the risk and the
choice is winning. Nevertheless, although the Col de Chiaoula is only at 1400
m (4600 ft) of altitude, the persistent and continuous snowing makes the road
clammy and our driver (MA) is obliged to give proof of his ability and cold
blood again. After the pass, the view is magnificent, with large forests of
dark firs and larches, with the new tender green leaves, which, toward the
top, turn into white. We pass through the land of the
and we reach the state
road again, just in time to give a quick glance (from the highway) to the
famous strengthened citadel of Carcassonne.
... climbing towards
After nine almost continuos hours in a car, we are fed up with it, it is time
to use our legs. We climb to the top of
Montagne Saint Victoire
(Holy Victory Mount) by the path of
. The air is clear and fizzy (can you believe that yesterday it was
snowing?) and the slope steep, through a rich Mediterranean flora. When we get
to the top, we contemplate the awesome scarp down the South
mountain slope. We begin the crossing of the crest under a tense and clean
wind, and, leaping from stone to stone, finally reach the Cross (
Croix de Provence
), standing 19 meters tall on an ample plinth.
We descend from the cross and reach a little church, the
Chapelle Notre Dame de
and a small oratory. The origin of these buildings is extremely
old: it is said that the church was built on the place where an ancient temple
rose, a temple erected by the Roman Mario to celebrate his victory over the
Teutons. The little girls are very disappointed: there are no drinks or candies
for sale; only a stand of religious images and souvenirs.
The scarp down