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Vers Pont du Gard, Sitges, Valencia, Toledo

World Trip Two

Monday, June 22 2009: La Massana - Vers Pont du Gard, France

The Pyrenees in France.

We had an expectation that it would be a three hour drive from Andorra to Julia's Dad's home in the south of France. It turned out to be a six hour drive. The first part was lovely and gave us more splendid views of the mountains as we dropped down to sea level from 3,000 meters (9,000 feet).

John, me, and Jean standing on a calcified leak from the aqueduct.

We felt the local drivers were a bit impatient and discourteous as we drove down the steep windy roads, but put this down to our driving very conservatively. But once we entered the highways I realized that Spanish, and particularly French, drivers are simply mad. They passed us at high speeds within inches, and they constantly changed lanes with little or no warning. This part of the drive kept us on our guard and made us both extra tired.

The Pont du Gard.

Ever since we picked up the rental car in Barcelona we have been under the guidance of a GPS, which we christened the NAV Chica because her synthetic voice offers instructions in English, but always adds a Spanish or French suffix. The GPS worked quite well until it came to finding Julia's Dad's home in the little village of Vers Pont du Gard in France. Chica could guide us to the village but not to their street. So when we finally arrived in the village Julia had to summon all of her high school French skills to ask several locals where the avenue Santa Vittoria d"Alba was. No one knew where the street was and in the end we were directed to a shop where it was suggested they might know the location of the wayward avenue. Fortuitously, as we drove through the tangle of tiny streets, we drove right past the unheard of avenue. Voila! We were there.

After many greetings, and many cups of tea, we took advantage of the extended daylight and went for a hike with John and Jean, our gracious hosts. They took us on a walk that went to the 2,000 plus year old Roman built aqueduct, which the region is famous for: the Pont du Gard. The aqueduct transported water to various Roman cities and many parts of this ancient infrastructure are still standing. The Romans used a mixture of concrete (still unknown to this day) and stone arches to achieve this amazing structure. The evening ended with a wonderful dinner, wines, and aperitif. Oh la la!

Tuesday, June 23 2009: Vers Pont du Gard, France

The castle of D"Allegre.

We took a hike through the lovely southern French woods this morning. We went, via an initial short climb up a hill, to the remains of the Chateau D"Allegre; which is a ruined castle.

The leaning tower of Uzes.

From here we had spectacular views of the countryside. This was a mix of vineyards, forests, a river, and a several escarpments. The escarpments pushed up ancient sedimentary layers of sand stone which jutted browns, grays, and yellows into the otherwise dark greens of the surrounds. We continued our walk to the Chapel St. Saturnin which rests on the summit of the hill. Despite its remote location it is still in use today. Monsieur Saturnin was canonized for resisting some other group who believed their god delusion to be superior to his.

After our hike John and Jean drove us to the quaint little town of Uzes. We visited the chateau of the Duc D"Uzes (whose family has owned the place for 1000 years), and we walked around the cathedral of Uzes. We looked out over a view of the green and fertile countryside around the town, which was filled with lush vineyards and apricot trees bursting with yellow fruit. The town of Uzes is not unlike so many of the medieval Spanish towns we have seen so far, containing a small maze like center filled with old stone buildings, cobbled streets, and crumbling walls. Later in the evening we ate a yummy French dinner and drank yummy French wines at a restaurant in a village down the road. Vive La France!

Wednesday, June 24 2009: Vers Pont du Gard, France

John lugging a wine box while I supervise.

It gets very hot in the south of France. I really discovered this on our walk today. The hike was rather exposed with little tree cover so we caught the full force of the sun the whole time. This made it tough going for me. The walk took us to a beautiful gorge where we saw several raptors circling for thermals.

After the walk we went wine tasting. The wine in the south of France is not too shabby. One forgets, with the onset of US, Australian, and New Zealand wines, that the French have been doing this for a while and can make a good drop too. John and Jean made dinner for us at their home and we drank many of the wines from the area that night. In fact, I had way too much and had a bad night's sleep to prove it.

Thanks John and Jean for your hospitality.

France Video

Thursday, June 25 2009: Vers Pont du Gard - Sitges, Spain

The promenade at Sitges.

It was a rough night for me last night. I got very little sleep and let's say things were flowing in the morning. But we dragged ourselves out of bed forced down a breakfast and packed up our kit. After saying goodbye to John and Jean we drove for four hours to Sitges back in Spain.

Sitges is just south of Barcelona and is a lovely little seaside town. Apparently it started as an artist's colony and it has a reputation for anything goes to this day. We used Sitges to overnight as we make our way south through Spain. It was hot when we arrived but a thunderstorm moved in and changed the ambiance to one of anticipation of rain, and rain it did.

Friday, June 26 2009: Sitges - Valencia, Spain

The hand that threw the holy hand grenade, or what happens when you take your god delusion too far.

The drive from Sitges to Valencia took us three hours and had us driving through arid but not infertile regions. Field upon field of orange trees covers most of the dark brown dusty earth that separates the two cities. As we passed through the Therian Peninsular we came upon a range of mountains.

The holy grail. Well, one of them anyway.

These mountains were merely worn down ancient stubs not unlike many of the mountains in Australia. They certainly did not reach up to the heights of their sisters the Pyrenees. When driving in Spain the autopistas are long and pass through empty countryside very much like country highways in the US or Australia. Also, like the US or Australia, they have roadside gas stations and restaurants. But unlike the US and Australia the food in the Spanish roadside restaurants is far superior. It includes great olives, cheeses, breads, and wines! So you can imagine that our lunch stop today was a very pleasant experience.

We finally arrived in Valencia which is the home of the annual throwing tomatoes competition, home of paella, and the home of the Holy Grail (and the holy hand grenade of Antioch). Julia was amazing driving us to our hotel in the heart of the city. She dodged cars, bikes, and pedestrians. She traversed busy streets to make turns. And finally she bashed the car up on to a curb so we could find the address of our hotel. As it turned out the curb Julia had parked us on was right in front of our hotel. Muy Bien!

Saturday, June 27 2009: Valencia, Spain

Everyone was happy to share a photo with us.

We enjoyed the Museum De Belles Arts De Valencia this afternoon. Our visit served two purposes. The first was to spend hours viewing Spanish art from the 15th to the 18th centuries and the second was to stay out of the midday heat. The collection was relatively small so we were able to see most of it in our one visit. We returned to the hotel after lunch for a siesta; as one does in Valencia. At six we were out eating tapas and drinking sangrias with the locals.

Valencia does have tourists but it is mainly populated by locals which gives it a more residential feel. As we walked back toward the hotel we came across a gay pride week celebration. The streets were packed with people and several floats. The floats were overflowing with scantily clad men and dotted with scantily clad women. All this to the pulsing sounds of dance music and we had quite a scene going on. The parade was reminiscent of many I have seen in San Francisco and added to the familiarity that Valencia has for us.

Valencia Video

Sunday, June 28 2009: Valencia - Toledo, Spain

A typical Toledo door.

Shrubs growing out of orange and yellow earth filled the landscape that accompanied us on our four hour drive from Valencia to Toledo. At first we were surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, but as we climbed out of the Province of Valencia and up into the higher ground of Castilla-La Mancha the scene became stark; in every direction we saw the brown and beige of a dry grass filled land.

The long straight and empty roads, unchanging in the baking heat of the Spanish summer, drew us on to our destination of Toledo.

My experience of Toledo was quite sharp.

Once there we walked the dusty, crumbling, ancient labyrinth of Toledo streets. The crooked lanes are dotted with lanterns and bars, where tourists smoke cigarettes and drink wine as they rest from walking the hilly streets. The medieval houses are decorated with large wooden doorways bristling with ironmongery. The city seems to have become more of a museum than a living city like Valencia, as its people have moved away to sprawling suburbs.

It feels sad that a city which almost became the capitol of Spain is now relegated to a more Disney-like existence.

Very happy drinking my PX.

We wanted to see the art of El Greco at the Casa y Museo de El Greco but were disappointed to find it closed due to reconstruction work. But we enjoyed our time in the city of swords and marzipan, albeit very short.

Since landing in Spain two weeks ago there are two things we expected to find; Pedro Ximenez sherry and Manchego cheese. But until tonight they were nowhere to be found. While dinning at Adolfo's restaurant this evening, not only did we partake of our two favorite Spanish foods, but we were pleasantly surprised to be treated to the best food we have eaten in Spain thus far. If you are ever in Toledo you must eat at Adolfo's restaurant it is comparable in culinary delight to the best San Francisco restaurants; plus the PX and Manchego were to die for.

Toledo Video

Trip stats

Miles Flown: 22,236

Miles Hiked: 258

Miles Skied: 2

Miles Driven: 5,368

Miles Sailed: 110


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