Monday, 15 August 2011

Holiday in Spain: Chemin de la Mature

Though this is in France, obviously. We'd seen Canfranc, and come over the Col du Somport, down the long steep windy valley, and realised we'd go past the Chemin de la Mature, so we stopped. We'd been here before, ages ago, during one of our holidays in Lescun. It is part of the GR10, but we'll just walk to the dramatic bit.
DSC_8428-chemin-de-la-mature

There is a turn-off the road, then a track up which you can drive if you're lazy or have lazy infants in your car, to a car-park. Then its a 10-15 or so minute walk up a good path to the dramatic bit, pictured here. The road was hacked out of the cliff in order to get tree trunks for ships masts - hence the "mature", which has a hat on the a turning it into "masture" (Manfred taught me that). From the path, you can look down on the Fort du Portalet [*]:

DSC_8422

DSC_8426DSC_8430Here is a better view of the cliff, and a clearer one of the path itself.

Notes and Queries: the area is good for rock climbing (indeed, M and I climbed there just one route I think all those years ago). It is quite intimidating though. The rucksac and rope that you can see in the corner of the main pic is a solo-ist who has hung his sac out of the way of hikers, flung his rope over and abseiled down, and will be climbing up self-protecting on the rope.

[*] Portalet or Pourtalet? I thought it was Portalet, and wrote that originally, before finding my ref, and adding the "u". But then a frog corrected me.

Refs



Spot the location

Spain - notes for a diary

Very very belatedly I'm trying to sort this out. Here is everything, dumped together. It will get disentangled. over time.

Day 3 (camping)
Day 5 (camping)
Four disasters (camping)
Picos: refuge Vegebano
Leon
Chemin de la Mature

Written well in arrears, so forgive any inaccuracies, not that you'll know, of course.

Leon to Jaca

And so, with regret, out of Leon, and tentatively, onto the road away. This was a day of a long drive - about 6 hours worth, depending on when we ended up - so we had to stop the "oh, that looks interesting, lets stop" stuff. Not that there was anything interesting, as I recall - low hills, plains, all looking very dry. I think we listened to Treasure Island on much of this route, which kept the kids happy. The roads were all quiet, and mostly motorway, so it was just bumbling along for me; and when I say nothing interesting there was, of cours, always something to see. We've fallen off our map, so navigating by blackberry and "the obvious", but unfortunately (a) although we're going to France, viz Francia, the roads would like to take us via the coast, so keep directing us off; and (b) some confusion between Pamplona (aka Irunea), which we do want to pass, and Irun, which we don't want. Anyway, we probably only waste 15 mins in being lost, which is acceptable margin of error. We pass Burgos and its glorious cloisters; indeed many other wonders along the way, alas. But taking time to turn off the motorway, park, find object is more than we have; let along the time to look at it. There are many conveniences to cars, but accessibility of town ceters definitely isn't one; it makes me long for the old days of cycling, where I naturally went where I wanted and stopped when I liked. But it didn't come with a/c, true.

Stop somewhere real for coffee; then at a service station; up ahead is a lakeside campsite which we might try. But when we get there it is so dry, and the lake is like Riano: just a flooded basin, low in summer, and unappealling: so the campsite, which in winter might be just above the lake shore, was in summer on top of a long dry slope. Oh well, we'll head on, to Jaca. And so we do, arriving latish. And it has two campsites, for some reason "Ain" is clearly the correct one in our minds, but as we head though town, down a tiny lane, over a broken bit, stop to let someone else past on the 1-way-road, I begin to have a terrible feeling about it, reinforced by the sign saying "camping 1 km" - so much for the near-town camping allowing us to walk in for the evening.

However, when we actually get there it is fine, charming: a small informal site, on a hill shoulder overlooking the plain and the town with views up into the Pyrenees; grounds flat but dry and the tent pegs are hard to get in. As we're setting up the sun is going into the set-into-clouds-in-glorious-orange routine, and we settle down peacefully for some food: pasta and egg noodle. After, to the little cafe for one of our customary rounds of cards, before bed. the campsite claims silence after 11, which would be welcome, but this is Spain and the spaniards talk late into the night.


Jaca to Lescun

Lescun! Still beautiful


Lescun to Bayonne

Leave Lescun with regret, as ever; my eye catches on every peak and meadow and tree and path. And down; I'd forgotten how steep the gorge is below.

Probably possibly maybe in retrospect we could have played this day differently and better. The key point is that we're heading for Bayonne / Biarritz, and contrary to M's usual good practice we haven't booked a hotel, which is fine by me because I like to take pot luck. But I'm thinking back to the good old bicycling days, when this worked, and where if all else failed I just camped by the roadside. We haven't yet been reduced to that extremity and I'm not confident it would work; the children might be up for it but is our tent? Anyway, until we arrive we don't realise how the agglomeration of Bayonne / Anglet / Biarritz is, though really we should have known: there are no spare spaces, in any sense. We drive to the sea, to the mouth of the Addour and the little lighthouse, quite out of proportion to the vast space. There is a vast car park, altough beyond that is fairly quiet. We drive along the coast around Anglet, but it becomes clear this is not our place, and indeed quite inexplicable why anyone would want to come here. So back to Bayonne, where we hope to find somewhere. At least the parking is convenient, on this Sunday before a feast day, but much else is shut and try though we might we can find no hotels free, and indeed hardly any hotels at all - it is inexplicable, as though there is a stock somewhere hidden, or the good citizens of Bayonne are doing their best to discourage tourists. While DE and I sit in a cafe, E and I playing Casino and D iTouching, M does her best but fails. As we decide to go into the hinterland, we see "hotel" on the far side of the river so drive over there; but that too is full, as is an Ibis, and just as we are about to give up entirely we remember the 3-star Loustau, try that, and it has space. Excellent. We'd have accepted just about anything at this point, but it is quite tolerable, if a fraction tatty and the bedroom feels smaller than our bathroom in the Parador (it isn't, really). To top it off the pizza resto I'd seen before when searching has now vanished, so we eat elsehwere.

We didn't stop anywhere interesting along the way, perhaps desirous of arriving early, and perhaps anticipating something to view at the far end. But there wasn't; and anyway the countryside we passed was quiet.


Ferry Home

From Bayonne it is 200 km ish on motorways to Santander. I got up at 7 for a 8 km run, first going into town and around the cathedral (still shut, and on a feast day too) and some grassy bits and back to the river then along the bank seaward. Warm and very humid. When I started the river was just quiet; when we leave it is flowing strongly seaward. We've decided to leave early, and spend our days free time in Santander not here. Hotel does a perfectly decent buffet with coffee, juice and joghurt and bread and croissants and miel.

Drive drive: hills, tunnels, forests, rain. Several coastal bridges across small river valleys with sand banks along the river and some little settlement at the mouth: very cute to look at from above, and longing, but I'll never know what it is like. As the guidebook says, the motorway tolls in this region are exhorbitant, which may be why there is so little traffic. To Santander, park near the ferry, which we watch come in from a nearby cafe. So far so good, but then we spend an hour wandering the nearby streets looking in vain for anything interesting, and fail. Perhaps we should have driven to the beach; perhaps we should have sat in the cafe for lunch; perhaps we should have looked at the catedral even though M says the guidebook says it is not interesting; perhaps we should have used our time elsewhere.

And so onto the ferry, via a wait of about an hour on the quayside, not too painful - the children, and sometimes me, listening to Lord of the Rings. I sit on a bollard and eat bread and cheese - the crumbly hard potent cheese we bought in a pokey little shop in the Picos, the village-store type nearly dead in England, that also sold lamb-suckling buckets. I'm just a touch miffed at this point, because with this spare hour I could ahve looked at the Catedral or around, and even said beforehand that we'd probably just sit in a queue, but no-one cared.

We have cabin 6101, far forward, but otherwise just like it was before. Out of the long harbour of Santander, sunnier as we head out to sea. Santander clearly has beaches and seafront - perhaps we should have thought to have a last play. All too late now, and anyway we're all a bit tired at this point; a nice rest on the ferry will be welcome. But as we head out into what looks like the mill-pond smooth sea a swell emerges, nearly invisible to the eye but all too palpable in the rise and fall of the ship: not by much, but by enough. D feels it particularly, and stays in the cabin having taken a tablet. Hours later, M feels it enough to vom, and later E suffers the same, but has eaten so little that nowt comes up. I feel it somewhat, but blame some on the dodgy coffee onboard. For hours, as we sail N across the bay, M and E and I sit in the cafe on deck 7 at the front, with the open sea before us; at first I lie my head on E's lap and she strokes my hair, then she lies on mine and I finish "Hunger Games", the book D bought on holiday.

Later, watch the moon rise orange and fade to white. To cabin; all to sleep, well.

Up 8 by ships time, and no I'm not going to work that out in Spanish time. May be early, not sure. Breakfast, D and I leading. E eats little. D returns to cabin, M and E to explore, I read "Edmund Campion" by Evelyn Waugh, a book M read and I think recommends.

And what of it? I haven't got far yet, but inevitably (given the subject matter, and Waugh's own conversion) it is about how wonderful Catholicism is, and how bad Protestantism (or possibly just the C of E) is. Unfortunately, his arguments so far are of the "C must be good because the C's were good" variety. Indeed M and I had a conversation in which we tried to work out why (for True Religious reasons) anyone would care one way or another (though it was a very ignorant conversation, neither of us knowing the difference between the mass and communion, for example). Waugh certainly provides none: the text is couched in terms of the Olde Waye, so I assume for him it really is a matter of Brideshead Revisited: it fits his idea of how the social order should go. Anotehr example I find telling: his words around Pius V excommunicating Elizabeth. Now P-V was the head of his church, and if E has left, he is fully entitled to say so. But he has no right to tell her subjects not to obey her, which is what he does. Or rather, he thinks he does have this right, and Elizabeth (and Henry) doesn't agree. But that was the entire controversy. Waugh does his best to hide the problem: he reports that contemporaries and subsequent scholarship though P-V's action ill-judged, but continues "and yet, as one studies that odd and complelling face which peers, obliquely from Zucchero's portrait..." - and you see that this really is all the logic Waugh's argument has.

E has a swim, then returns to the cabin, where D has stayed in iTouch land. M and I sit on deck 9, E having brought us up there for the pool, writing very belated diaries and not paying a great deal of attention to England heaving into view on the port bow; it is a misty day.




Thread of a novel: The Count of Monte Christo revisted

Edmund Dantes was a fool; a man so stupid that, after accident had delivered him great wealth, he became known as the Cunt of Monte Christo...

And so on, to parody various incidents in the book. He will be an incompetent captain, and Danglars will sail the ship for him. Danglars will try to warn him about the dangers of the letter, but the arrogant Dantes will not listen. In stupid low cunning he will try to use it to buy Villefort, who will have no choice but to imprison Dantes. In prison, he will betray the Abbe for his gold and the prison guards, sick of him, will bung him into the sea.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Holiday in Spain: 4 disasters

Weeeell, not really, but it makes a good post title. Since I'm short on time, the headlines:
* came back from swim, went to showers (nice campsite showers are on one of the steep hills, and are half-walled on one side, so you can look out and down into the valley beyond), and a while later I realised I didn't have my watch. Oops. Asking around didn't help: it is lost: hence, no GPS tracks. Oh well, onto #3 I guess.
* pulling my kindle out of my rucksac looking forward to more Count of Monte Christo I find... that the screen has broken, argh, and no longer updates except in fetching shatter-patterns. Oops. My fault, I think, for putting it into an over-crowded sac and for facing the screen, instead of the back, in towards the camera lens.
* the weather wasn't as good as it could have been whilst we were camping: we only got one sit-round-the-camp-fire-in-the-evening type night. Other nights, rain.
* somehow or other I managed to lose our sponge bag. Though on the great scale of disasters this has to rate pretty low. But I was displeased not to get it back: it isn't very stealable (unlike the watch) so either the site staff or someone should have handed it in.

Otherwise, it is all going well.

Holiday in Spain: Picos / Vegebano

Somehow, we ended up having only one night up in the Picos proper. Miriam arranged the refuge (Vegebano), and whilst it wasn't the one I'd have chosen (too low down) it actually turned out well and anyway, I can't complain if I can't be bothered to organise it myself.
Drive to Soto de X. Park, temporarily. To cafe for drinks because this is good, and to avoid walking up in the heat of the noonday sun. Move car to top of village where we find space, and pack bags for a night, and walk up. Takes 1.5 hours, and is mostly in forest - quite open forest, similar to Ashridge. Agree on the 15-mins-walk-then-5-mins-rest deal with the children, and this works, and we get to the top not too whinged at.

DSC_8176And so the next day I got up at 6:30 (thanks to D's watch), put on socks and trousers, felt my way down the ladder, picked up my pre-packed sac and headed out of the hut into the pre-dawn. The sky is faintly light, and thanks to M and I having scouted out the route yesterday (a very good idea) I know to go back, down and round to start off. After about an hour I've come out of the forest, out of the low scrub, and am sitting on a ridge overlooking the other refuge, which is plainly unused. OK, so no need to waste 20 mins visiting and drinking its coffee. Now I need to head on up. It is still early - first light is tinting the peaks off to the W, the sun itself hidden by the massif to the E. Rocks and rocks, not an easy path. Stop every now an again to look and photo and wonder, and eat a little: I had no breakfast, so have two small marzipan bars and some jelly cubes, in total. Oh, and a bit of water. Another hour or more gets me to the top of the scree and I'm on the limestone "plateau", which has a "camino de burro". I'd hoped for a good path, but it is a true donkeys path - hard work and obstinate, up and down although overall mostly level.

This leads round a shoulder to the plateau where my map marks refugio (ruins), but as my pic shows has been put into order, though only as a tiny no-warden bunks-only hut. Not even any water nearby, except a seep (or tiny stream?) fed into ?cattle troughs? so you'd need to boil it. A few people camping there - there is green grass, unlike the rest of the plateau, which is bone dry - and they look to be climbing types. Which becomes clearer: I've now used up most of my 4 hours outbound, and have perhaps 3/4 h left, so I head towards the massif, well actually the rock/grass ridge running up to the left, and end up around 2200 m (Ag Corups Christi). This gives a fine view of the main wall, and I see some tiny dots of climbers. It looks quite intimidating. See walker on scree below. Mountain deer.

And then back. Not a lot of time to spare, but am down almost to my time - just after 1:30 - 7 hours, 4 up, 3 down. M, D and E have just got back 5 minutes earlier, having not quite made it to the ridge - E got a bit restive - and dilly-dallied in pleasant fashion on the way back. Have a drink and some lunch, pack up, head down though the greenwood. Car in about an hour, repack it, head off. Initially the high Picos, lovely, but then go down, in the pitiless sun (well it certainly looked pitiless outside, inside the a/c made us comfortable). Somehow none of the village cafes this side looked quite inviting enough; past the big lake (at Riano) the land starts to turn dry, then we're out into the lower hills/plains heading into Leon.

Of the refuge: E liked it a lot: very friendly, she said. The guardienne spoke passable English. Dinner good (too large, if anything: meat balls, slices of ?pork?; two soups; mashed potatoes) breakfast (apparently, I skipped out early) OK too. Distinct "celtic" / elves feel to decor. Bunks in ledges above common room (per pic) and in two other rooms: we had a shelf for 4 in the third level of our room, which worked well. No mains electricity (e.g. for charging things), no internet. Toilet and washbasin, one loo, shower but paid for (and at 3.50 euros, not cheap). In grassy meadow, with stream, surrounded by colchique.

Refs



Refugio Vegebano, interior of main room
Refugio Vegebano, exterior with D and E.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Leon

Picos to Leon
Down from Sotos, via some ups, vaguely looking for somewhere to stop for a brief coffee, but not seeing anywhere. The lake of Riano looked from the map like it ought to be a place - we pass the dam that has flooded this valley, and then spend a long time driving along the lakeshore - but the town of Riano appears devoid of interest and the lake itself too: it looks dry, weirdly, in that the surrounding hills are, and the lake itself is maybe 20 m down its steep basin, so dipping toes in the water isn't an option.

Coming in to Leon itself is confusing, and I nearly get annoyed at M for leading us obviously the wrong way, but somehow going in by the backstreets is the correct, or at least a working, option: and here we are.

Leon

(version two of my wise words. Version one, incomplete, died in a reboot - I knew I shouldn't have just left it in a browser window unsaved but did anyway. Hopefully I can recapture the spontenaity of the original).

From the mountains, to the burning plains. We'd booked ahead to the Parador San Marcos, and arrived about 6. The Parador was far above our usual level of luxury - they are a "chain" of state-run hotels (can you imagine state-run hotels in England? In Spain the state is different; they are housed in historic buildings, somewhat like a Landmark Trust only with grander buildings). So the prices are high, but not insanely so, and the buildings rumoured to be good, and this one at least is 5-star; we'd booked ahead with some trepidation. Within half an hour of arriving, though, we'd decided to stay an extra night, the builing was so astonishingly wonderful.

It is a former fortress/convent/barracks/hostel/hospital on the Compostella route, belonging to the order of St James, once rich and powerful, having (I may have the history a touch wonky here) evolved from something of a travellers protection/police into a virtual government for the regions. The front facade is carved stone, particularly fine in slanting morning or evening light, with medallions of various famous personages now forgotten - or maybe if you're Spanish you know them all. Pedro, Carlos, you get the idea. All gracefully carved, now gently fading, so some miss noses or ears or more. To the L is the river, with a wide embankment shaded by trees and with benches and (here) bwols-type runs; an old stone bridge; and a weir; and upstream a wider-than-elsewhere willowly stream. To the R the building has the large Church and then shades off into the former hospital, I think, now administrative. In front is a spacious plaza with little bubbly fountains very pleasant on hot feet; and behind, over the car-park, is the very moderd building of the Junta of Castille y Leon (cue graffiti: "Leon Solo" and Castille y Leon on the signs; but other than graffiti, no signs, though I'm not sure what else I could have seen). Our rooms are in the annex, which extends seamlessly back from the main building; it is neutral on the outside, but that is OK, as you don't have to see the outside. According to which side of the corridor you're assigned you get a view over the car park or (us, luck) over the garden, formally planted to little hedges. But the way the building is made - to avoid the sun, curtained, inward - you don't really look out anyway.

Inside, adjoining and connected to the church, is a spacious cloister, and this is glorious. It works best on a hot day; and the day of our arrival, and the next, were clear-blue cloudless-sky hot days such that moving out of the shade was not fun. And I realised something that should not have taken me so long: that it is not just being in the shade that matters, because being in the shade of a parasol in the middle of a hot square (whilst better than being in full sun) is still very hot, due to the thermal radiation from all the hot surfaces around you (as well as some reflected sunlight). Whereas in the cloister all the surfaces are cool, and only a small amount of sky is visible and little sunlight gets in, so it is delightfully cool. We wandered the lower cloister, admiring the various carvings, and the four large statues (removed from the Catedral during restoration ~150 years ago), and the views through the arches, and the little garden. Only the next day, after breakfast (which is half-upstairs) did we realise you can get into the upper cloister, which has 2-for-1 arches over the lower. And there, marvellously, you can just sit on the thoughtfully provided benches and seats and read or play cards or amuse yourself as you please (and I'm still not sure if only hotel guests may do this, or the public too; but very few seem to have realised they could). If you sit on the closest-to-the-river side, you can look out through the arches at the church roof, and the brick tower (looking to my eye like something from a Mexican film, but I suppose it is really the other way around).

We booked ourselves in for dinner, partly to spare ourselves a walk through the streets and partly to see what it could produce. The answer was, as I expected, a fine meal not to our tastes. And this was probably more a flaw in our tastes rather than the food, and interesting contrast to our appreciation of the building, which was enthusiastic. So D, for example, had selected as starter a "juicy rice" dish, fully expecting it to be a paella. But it was a very full and meaty soup or broth, somewhat fishy, with rice in it, deeply tasty. D far preferred the simple coarsely done paella he'd had on his 10 euro menu in Cangas. At this remove, I've largely forgotten my meal - except for the asparagus, which was OK, but probably not as good as that which M cooks from Waitrose stuff.

The 5-star virtues shone out at the breakfast buffet, though, when the choice was near-infinite: toast; melon, orange, papaya slices; orange, kiwi, melon juices; breads, cakes, croissants, etc; fruit; chestnuts in syrup; yoghurt (from the yoghurt machine!); sausages, tortilla, eggs, etc; and so on and so forth in such variety that I struggled to sample what I'd like. There was a silly bug in the coffee machine UI, though: you could, via "menu", select a wide variety of languages. But from there it was hard to exit the menu: you had to flip though to 7, "exit" and leave via that - totally non-intuitive. Which meant that by the end of breakfast, most of the coffee-machines had become non-usable to ordinary folk. Which didn't really matter, as you could just order coffee anyway.

I'd got up fairly early - 6:30 - to go for a decent run, as this was a perfect place for it; running alongside river embankments is good. I ran over the bridge and then L, downstream, which I thought was E, but which turned out to be probably SE; the sun wasn't up at this point but the sky was paling. A footpath / cycleway runs along the river, and I followed this for perhaps 4 km, only seeing one other runner who I hoped to catch but who turned out to be Fast. Somewhere I swapped banks and passed by some folk, probably tourists (because of the rucksacs rather than carrier bags) sleeping out rough, still buried asleep in their s'bags; then the river path ran out and I turned L, NE away from the main river along a side stream, along cycle track then road then track, and (lacking GPS) kept going for 50 minutes. I negotiated this with myself, calculating that I could count this as 20 km including the return, which took the same. As I ran the sun came up, but due to hills and the surrounding stuff, it didn't rise in any satisfyingly spectacular way. The terrain I ended up in was New Build land, rather soulless, with the characteristic patches of empty land. Coming back I flt good and picked up the pace, so the return was exactly the same time as the outward. A little sit in the plaza to cool in the early sun before returning for a shower. B'fast with M - children not really awake and definitely not Up - a look at the outside - and dig out DE for their breakfast, and a sit in the cloisters.

Not early
Catedral - not open
Cafe
Street cleaner/waterer
Pilgrims
Didn't even go round back of C
Inside, space
Basillica - OK but
Kids bored - too much kulture
Pushed the walk-in-hot-sun envelope too much
Next days run
Last sit

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Holiday in Spain: day 5

Shall I confine myself to today? It is Saturday. No alarm, wake gently, we are all snuggled together. There is no rain. In fact (when I get up, a little after 8) there is some sun, and the promise of more. Good.
Well, the kids being still abed, D asleep and E reading, M and I decide to go and see the Bufones (Karstitic blowholes) that I saw while running. I think that if we drive further on, we can make it just a short walk back. And it is probably best done about high tide. So drive off in the nearly-early-morning and turn E on the main road. Passing though a little village I spot a cafe so we swing in and have a quick(ish) breakfast: coffee+croissant for me, and tostada (toast) for M: it is nice to be in a country that does toast. Though odd to be in one that expects you to want milk in your coffee. A little further along we find a turn-off marked Bufones and take it, find parking, and walk. After a while it becomes clear that we could probably have driven down the little track... after maybe 1 km we get to the sea cliff edge and the Bufones. It is a fraction calmer today and the whistling is there but the spray-blowing isn't. Clamber around, and to the sea edge, admire the cliffs - a little Pembroke-esque, though not as good of course. Walk back, at peace, though the sun is now warm - getting on for 11. Back over the new-motorway workings, quiet at the weekend, to the car.

Driving back stop at a little market I saw on the way out. Walk all the way through - several cheese-stalls, bread stalls, one vegetable stall, leatherworking, brocante, tat. Which cheese stall to patronise? One looks very nice with some delightfully crumbly old cheese, do that; and a pastry stall. And M gets some veg. Also some cider - sidra over here.

Back, about 11:30, and it is about time to go down to the beach. So we do, getting to the beach-with-a-stream just as the tide is going down off the rocks/pebbles onto the sand. Misc swims, D+E+B+G+S, etc, me sleep on M's lap, minor panic when Gemma decides the others are out of their depth and M makes me leap in but before I get anywhere it is all resolved. Swim myself, and award self 500m on heiaheia. Val+Dave+D+E+J turn up. Just as I'm coming out, rain spots, and then worse, so rapidly the beach clears and we at least retreat to the cafe.