Spain 2011 – the last stop – Montserrat

We came to Montserat from Berga, from the Pyrenees side and the big strange mountain with sticking fingers from it opened in front of us still enveloped in clouds. Following the signs of parking we found ourselves at the bottom parking lot by a train (in Spanish that train is called Cremallera – to me it sounds more like some desert than a train ) station:

– the train was taking tourists and pilgrims up to the outstanding monastery, the most sacred place for Catalonians. The Black Mary (Mare De Deu) with her Baby Jesus in the main altar of the church are considered to have magical powers. Those trains leave every hour, not so convenient for us who like freedom, also the price is not very cheap. There are options – you can buy an excursion in the monastery and a meal together with the ticket, or just a ticket. But we chose to find a route up to the mountain ourselves. It was not hard, we drove steeply up over another nicely built town of Montserrat, tucked at the bottom of the mountain and then past some other picture perfect monastery:

And here we easily found parking but had to walk a little to reach the main square of the complex:

Crowds of God loving people were leaving the monastery, evidently the Mass just ended. So we came in time. The Basilica is tucked in the complex of buildings on the right. One has to walk to the end of this street than turn sharply

right and walk up towards another square in front of the monastery:

And then again you enter another gate and get into the third cluster or inner garden with the Basilica in front:

The front of the Basilica is not as impressive as the whole cluster with its floors:

and lots of sculptures and frescoes (themed with the same Virgin of Montserrat) all around there:

On the right side of this cluster by special doors we saw a line of people standing and joined them. We figured out that that was a line waiting to see and touch the Virgin:

It was not boring to stand in the line while admiring the decors of the Basilica:

There are little bronze bugs on this alabaster pole over there – kind of cute and funny for a Basilica decor – those Spaniards, they have their humor!

She was there, once we went up those steps decorated with different Virgins on the left and saint women on the right. We didn’t take her picture, I think it is not appropriate to do it, she is too sacred/ but we touched her globe she has in her right hand. Her and her baby Jesus are covered in plastic cover, only the globe sticking from it, where everyone is touching to get some sacred energy. It was exciting! So many people come with their wishes, so many energies mingling in one spot. here is one of modern detail in this not very modern building (as I have mentioned they like mixing old and new and do it with success, I think):

The views from the monastery square and from its road:

And that was it. We ate in their cafeteria, the food was not tasty, and it was cold – try not to eat there. Paid as if 4 euros for the parking and left for the Barcelona airport. In its area we already had a reservation to this 4 star hotel:

The hotel was very good, it had a spa with lots of different underwater currencies in the pool, different massaging showers and saunas, a good place to relax before a long flight. There were only 2 problems waiting for us – to find a way to the Sixt – the car renting place…it was somewhere close, but so many wide one way roads so many highways going here and there, so many closed office buildings (it was Sunday) that we drove around for a while till managed to see Sixt…Another problem was in the terminal. From the car rental their shuttle took us to the terminal, where we had to wait for more than an hour for our shuttle to the hotel… But their shuttle early in the morning left in time and we were in the gate area in time, though the plane left later because of the fog. And therefore we had to run like crazy in Paris to catch our plane. This was it. This is how we saw Spain.



Spain 2011 – More Pyrenees in rain…

It was the 12th of March and we were planning to see more of those wonderful Pyrenees, but the morning was not promising at all. It was raining cats and dogs…Non stop. The clouds low in the sky…So here we are in Balaguer, which we didn’t manage to see yesterday for it got dark, we saw only the river in front of our hotel:

We had to park the car on the other side of the bridge on a street and then come to this side and stay in a hotel here because there was the only hotel in sight. But it was literally in the old part of the town which is usually the place of interest. So in the morning, in the pouring rain we walked a little in the central square of the town:

The square was empty of cars for a reason it was Saturday – a farmers’ market for the town, so the cars had to leave the square for trade booths making it much more attractive. The traders were also not in a hurry – who is going to rush on such a morning…

Through the corner of the square we went up towards the wall that was seen from the central square (there over the square you can see a grey top line- that is a wall bordering maybe a monastery or a castle on top of the city) but I was scared to climb the stairs, them being so wet and also – very high…and so I didn’t see their big cathedral from close by, only from the bottom of the hill:

Another old bridge and church with a monastery were seen further, so this city could have been an interesting place to investigate if not for that rain and our crazy plans to see Pyrenees one more time… So we kept to our plan and drove through those low clouds in the mountains that started pretty soon after we left Balaguer. Lots of cars were returning back towards civilization form their ski resorts – skis on tops of the cars. But we didn’t accept it as a sign and diligently drove to La Seu d’Urgel where we met the nicest Spanish guy during the whole trip – in a visitor’s center. He gave us maps and assured that we can cross some mountains towards Berga where we also very mistakenly made a reservation for that night…He said the mountain road is good and the views are perfect. Just as we needed…But this rain…So we walked a little in La Seu:

Found a library – a really impressively transformed old gothic church into a modern building:

And had lunch…That is it in La Seu, we rushed to manage to cross that part of the mountains, naive us…I remember asking the guy – won’t this rain turn into snow high up in the mountains. He said it is too late to snow over there in mid March. And here is what we got into:

Yes, the couple of towns we saw on the way were very picture perfect -on a sunny day, of course.

Pubol, a vi;;age where Picaso painted for one summer was supposed to be on the way, that was the main incentive to drive on the crazy narrow, windy and wet road. I guess Pubol looks similar to this…But i can only guess because after struggling for 2 hours and making 40 km the snow was already dripping onto the car and road and it was not melting any more…Being completely alone on the road – it was not reasonable to continue…The only prize we got was this view:

This was the only town we saw past Tuxen and didn’t dare driving further. In Tuxen we still investigated if we could reach Berga on another mountain route. People in the only restaurant said we could, but after giving it a try we still had to turn around and return to La Seu and do all the round trip on better roads all the way to Berga…That was not a very good day, especially for Andrei, to do all that driving on those windy roads – it was not fun at all. But we figured out that it is an interesting and beautiful place to visit a little later in spring or summer:




Spain 2011 – Navarra and Aragon again

So on the March 12th we were heading back towards Barcelona again, stopping at several towns to walk into their old parts. The first one was Corella- it is considered a town of beautiful renaissance houses. Generally teh town looked very much like others we already visited. Just some houses were decorated in a very deliberate manner:

Next stop was Tudela with its typical jewish quarter:

And storks nesting everywhere they can in a city:

…and its beautiful buildings:

This one was peculiar – it had colorful plates glued into the facade:

…and the cathedral:

…and its squares:

All around this main square each house had a fresque in between windows or balconies on the second and third floors! Tudela people really like decorations !

Then through Bardenas Reales – a landscape very similar to Utah’s landscapes but far from being that dramatic we drove out of Navarra and in to Aragon again. As we were used to already -there were wind mills here and there lining mountain edges:

What amazed us in Spain – they are very much into alternative energy sources and into saving electricity as well. The lamps switch off in their toilets even if you are not done, the corridors in the hotels switch on only if you enter them, then they switch off. You get used to it, it is really good for Mother Nature…

This is a typical little village or town you see them on while driving:

And then there was Huesca:

Then we drove again, a lot, on the way noticed Castello de Farfanya – nothing special, nothing mentioned in travel books. Just it looked attractive from the road and we decided to do a small hike, to move our muscles:

There was a wild path up, used only by local kids. But on the top there was an information board which said that there was a castle and a cathedral built on the same hill. Both of them left for decay…:

It was even scary to walk around – so fragile the walls looked…So we didn’t even try to enter or anything. The views from the hill:

Our car is down there, a little black one. Then we got stuck in super narrow one way streets of this small town , but luckily found our way out and by the very evening reached Balaguer – a city on a river with a hotel right there – facing the river:

And this is where we stayed for a night.




Spain 2011 – Basque shore

The 10th of March was again one of the most beautiful days we had in Spain – after The Pyrenees. The very morning looked foggy, but then it cleared up and I was already thinking of staying one more night in that wonderful hotel with lots of X-es in its name with the sea waves beating under our window:

But then my willingness to see the mountains one more time conquered this wish to stay and so we just walked one more time in those 4 medieval streets of Getaria:

The church is very strange there- it is built over a street! So the altar part of the church is higher and all the floors are lifted towards the altar, so tat if you drop a ball by the altar, it wall roll down towards the entrance, or if you go for a communion – you would feel like climbing a mountain, or if you sit in a chair – you feel like you are in there to have a nap:

Spaniards like having coffins in their churches, some of them with a very realistic body, so that I was happy I visited them only now, when I am “over the hill” and not so sensitive, fo rin my childhood – i couldn’t bear such a view:

There is a fortress by the road, which you can climb up and see the town from high up:

Our hotel was that last red building. We also walked down to the fishing port with the warehouses for fish:

This is a town you can fall in love with and want to come again and again…but we would rather not, too far away…So we left driving up North on the same road by the sea till we saw Zumaia:

We stopped by the entrance to the city to see the House-museum of a Basque prominent painter Ignacio Zuloaga, but it was closed, so just some pics from outside of his house:

Speaking about Basques – they have their own language Euskera and their own different names of cities and places. But even their names in Spanish sound and look different – the letter combinations like “itz” or “oa” as well as the last letters “X, Y, Z of the alphabet are met in their words quite often. And also speaking about Basques – their waiters seemed to us rather unpleasant. This was area in our trip were they openly showed how they hate taht we don’t speak Spanish and how they “don’t care” -they would never look directly to your face. just somewhere through your head to the spaces behind…and never cared whether we stayed or left for the service for unbearably slow…Women waiters – a completely different story. They were nice as everywhere in Spain. Draw your own conclusions, I can’t give a sexist advice :-).

Here are some pictures from Deba & Ondarroa – another coastal towns:

The maps usually don’t show a road from Ondarroa to Lekeitio. but there is one, on the sea shore. a very narrow one. it was worth driving it for the views and the first sight of Lekeitio from the high coast cliff that the road came from:

We found a space to park in the center on the street and walked to the port area to search for some “menu dia”. That took us a while. Lots of places, all crowded and very unfriendly. After seeing the boats and the Cathedral:

We found a nice restaurant further from the sea and closer to where we parked:

A magnolia tree was blooming if front of it:

After leaving Lekeitio we already turned inland and drove for a long time, through the gray granite mountains. pretty high rocks over high passes till we reached Vitoria – Gazteiz – the Basque capital. Walked there a little, but not too much, same narrow medieval streets, same churches…

Except that their streets go parallel in co-centric ovals. But…we couldn’t find their central square. And afterwards we had a big problem driving out of the city – the road out was kind of hidden…as it often happened to us over there :-)…So we drove till we reached Alfaro, already in the dark where there was a suitable hotel and pretty close to another place of interest for tomorrow -Corella.





Spain 2011 – Navarre 2 and Basque

We found a pretty good guest house on the road to Pamplona from the south. The evening was very rainy so we just rested and saved energy for tomorrows adventures. So on March 9th we visited Pamplona – which I knew about as a city of San Fermin festival in July and a bull race they have in the middle of the old town every day during that festival. I would never go there in July :-). But now in March it was interesting to see one more Spanish capital with lots of history. They have good maps, but it is still very hard to figure out the best way in and out of the city. We parked in an underground parking in the center, and walked to the very center. Some nice houses onthe way:

Some squares with their hero figures:

But I was mostly impressed by Plaza del Castillo:

Then we went along Estafeta – the street where bulls run during St. Fermin festival:

They even run by the City Hall which is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Pamplona:

And then we visited a museum, right on top of the corral where they keep the bulls before they let them loose:

The museum had lots of paintings, sculptures and the church on the right:

Here is one of the ancient mosaics exposed there:

And that is all from Pamplona. there are lots of other churches and buildings worth visiting, but we started feeling already too overchurched. Plus, everything in Pamplona is not for a fee – the parking, the churches. etc. Unlike other towns we visited. And when you have seen so much – so why bother. They also have a big 5 angled Ciudadela – the Citadel – but the books wrote that the gardens on it are especially beautiful when flowers are in bloom. This time it was too early in spring. So we went back to our car and had a rather hard time finding our way out of the city onto a highway towards the Basque country, towards the Atlantic.

The green slopes and white houses by the highway looked very cozy:

The first stop on the Atlantic shore, more precisely – on the Golf of Biscay, was Hondarribia, pretty close to San Sebastian:

There was no problem to park by its well lifter center, as always, but we had to climb up, again…

Till we reached a square, a fortress with parador in it:

and some beautiful viewpoints:

From there we tried to get to San Sebastian, we got there, drove through the center hectically looking for a place to park – not on the streets, which were over packed with cars and people – but some parking garage or something like that.We couldn’t…the whole city left me an impression of a grandeur and somehow reminded Moscow or St. Petersburg in Russia, too big to enjoy, too busy. With a bridge of that Russian type, decorated with sculptures. I didn’t even manage to take a picture- we couldn’t stop even for a moment…So what was left for us – to drive away and seek some beautiful views elswhere on the coast, up a little North:

Here is a view from far away towards San Sebastian. The coastal road is good, it was very pleasant to drive there and feel the sea so close. We passed a couple of towns on the way until we came to Getaria, there we found where to park and went for a walk towards the old town – and guess what – there was a hotel right on the corner, facing the sea, and the price wasn’t killing and everything was so right, the name of it Itxas Gain:

So we got a room there:

brought our stuff and had a nice walk in the 3 medieval parallel streets of Getaria:

It was very strange with their geology – our room in the hotel was on the 2nd floor, not high from that street level. But very high from the other street level and from the sea level on th eother side of it:

This is the view we could see not directly from the room – because there was an inner garden going form our room to the edge of the cliff where the owners arranged a safe observation deck with tables, chairs, pants, palms and even a little lawn to lay in the sun:

This path leads to the observation deck from our room…It was wonderful. I can’t say more…


Spain 2011 – Navarre 1

As you can see I am writing in the past tense. About the travels in Spain 2 months ago…Shame on me, but I couldn’t find time or energy to make it into the web faster. The spring came here to Southern Utah in whole speed, it is warm and nice now, therefore lots of work in the gardens. The blooms are also fantastic, so we spent some time hiking and observing desert flowers and blooming cacti. Not speaking that all the mountains around and vistas are wonderful.

But I have to come back to March 8th and describe our day traveling in Navarre. First stop – Javier, named under a saint, a quite an interesting saint. Saint Francis Javier, patron of Navarre was born in 1506 in the castle. The younger son of a well-off family, he went to study at the University of the Sorbonne in Paris and there he met Ignatius Loyola and his life was radically turned around. In 1541, moved by his faith, he started an eleven year journey which took him to India and the Far East. Here are the scenes from his life made into 3D and exposed in the castle of Javier:

So he visited India (as if Indians do not have enough of their own gods…) and then Indonesia, Japan and ended up in China where he was painted in an eastern manner. He is laid to rest in Goa, India.

What I liked about the museum – and I noticed it in most old restored buildings and castles – they combine the new materials, interiors with their old styles:

So I started to show the Xavier castle from the inside -w hat an approach :-). Here how it looks form the outside:

As every decent castle it has a church attached to its side:

The church has a nice entrance:

and luckily there was a mass that I could get a feel of -a nice mass, even without understanding Spanish I could understand what was going on:

And then I looked towards the monastery from the top of the castle:

and we left for another town with an interesting name: Sos del Rey Catolicos:

Instead of parking our car there on the left by the hill town, we decided to be lazy to climb it, all their old towns are to be climbed up, so we kind of got tired :-), and so we drove up in those narrow one way streets, we were crazy:

Of course we got stuck, got freaked out…had a very hard time even turning around, let alone finding our way back on the right -way streets. If not for that tractor guy, the only living being on that side of the town – I was close to tears :-)…But he assured us we will find the way out of this labyrinth. So we drove out and around and parked on the other side of the hill – it seemed to have more life there. Then climbed up to the very top:

Looked around:

Walked around the tower erected on the highest point of Sos del Reyt Catolico:

and visited their church a little lower:

The only man in the church directed me to the crypt, so I went…down a super narrow winding and low staircase just to see this:

It was a scary feeling down there in the crypt – I was thinking – if lots of people gathered there and there was a fire – that is it, a communal tomb…With the super narrow staircase -how many of them could escape? Or – if it is a crypt- naturally you think someone worthwhile is buried there. But how could they get a coffin into it? Unless they buried before building the church. It is so not good not to speak the language of the country you travel…

Next stop – Sanguesa. Very beautiful roofs edges – with lots of sculptures under them, but who has the strength in their necks to look so way up and who has such sharp eyes to see what are those sculptures…

The entrance to their church had very unusual non symmetrical sculptured creatures that you could see with a regular eyesight:

Sanguesa was peculiar in the sense that unlike in any other town we couldn’t find a restaurant, especially with “menu dia”. So we drove to our other destination -Ujue, which is in the middle on nowhere, just low mountains, almost like desert…No towns around, except San Martin de Unx – thanks God for that – at least we found an add -“Menu Dia” – 10 euros! it was in a private house, not in some restaurant. The house was several miles from the town but still in the proximity and a tall English lady with a Spanish husband lives here. She likes catering. so she arranged part of their house to look more like a restaurant and she holds parties there. During lunch – Menu Dia! it was especially nice to visit that establishment, for we were the only customers, it was peculiar what would they feed us with, and at last – we could talk! and get to know something about life in Spain. We were so excited, that didn’t take the picture of her restaurant neither of her…Just the flan dessert – it is popular in Spain:

As planned we drove towards Ujue on that desolate road. but didn’t even enter the town. for it seemed we won’t find anything different that in other towns we already visited, just the general view from far away:

And the last town for that gloomy not a good weather for pictures day was Olite. All the books mention it having a fairy tale castle:

A Parador is established in that castle – it is a government owned high end hotel. At some point Spanish government took over some outstanding castles, restored them to modernity inside and made them into hotels. Guests can experience a real medieval life style, I guess, while staying there, maybe they can even meet some ghosts. But all joking aside – they have the best restaurants in those Paradors and the prices for the rooms are reasonable for Euro zone citizens.

The church has an interesting cloister not inside, but in front of it.

Leaving Olite and heading towards Pamplona for the next day’s visit:






Spain 2011 – Aragon Pyrenees

March 7th was the most beautiful day of our travels. The weather was perfect. Sunny and crispy as it can be only in the mountains. We got breakfast in our Hostal by River Ara in Fiscal -with the view of the river, for the hostel is built right on the edge of the river. Kind of scary, because that edge was very high. Here is the view:

So then we started our driving-through-the-mountains day stopping at almost every little town we found on our way. The first town – Sarvise:

Oto in the distance:

Broto -seemed like old was connected with new to get a mountain resort:

There was even a waterfall in town with twisting rocks on its side:

Then we turned from the main road towards Balneario di Panticosa -a ski resort, and saw this:

It seemed like a fairy tale, this little town of Torla, where we had an extended walk. it also seems so low under the mountains. But actually you have to climb to get into it from the parking. As every town here in Pyrenees it is on a hill or a higher edge between the very high mountains. I can’t imagine a more picture perfect town…Even on this very bright sunny day when the pictures also don’t come out as good, almost the same as on rainy days:

Everything looks pretty grey, I agree, because of the grey stones they used for buildings and the lack of flowers – too early in spring. So at least those jackets were making the walls of a shop brighter.

This is already another town on the way where we had our lunch – Menu Dia.

Here we proceed on the road to Balneario di Panticosta, by a reservoir – what a beautiful name!

This one on top – is looking back from where we came.

Balneario is “downstairs”, ski elevators were everywhere seen on the right – but there was nothing to do for us and we didn’t even land there, just looking from the top road was enough.

Then we drove through Jaca, didn’t stop there either, and again up to some lower mountains towards Monasterio De San Juan De La Pena, it is mentioned in all tourist books and is on a back road but on one of the main pilgrimages routes:

Here is what opened to our eyes once we drove up in a forest, as it opens to pilgrims eyes:

Actually this is a new monastery. But is is built in a kind of a Gothic style. As we didn’t get into any excursions…our knowledge about places was not as deep. I couldn’t get enough of that view that pilgrims first see as they get out of the forest:

The lawn was full of very tiny daffodils and the forest – some blue spring flowers that bloom in Lithuania and it was very sentimental to see them. We used to go to the forests by our city on Sundays to pick some of those spring prophets. I am sorry. I don’t know their English name. And their color didn’t come right in pictures, so no flowers :-). Instead – the lower monastery, which was arranged under a sandstone rock, very similar to Utah rocks:

Then again – lots of driving, with medieval towns here and there:

Till we reached another monastery- de Leyre:

Also on a hill, also to the side of a main road, also with views:

They had a hotel there, but it was still closed and also – when we looked at its prices – they were not for dollar zone pockets. We also noticed that there is a spring of Virgin Mary, where we filled our bottles with very tasty and maybe even sacred water:

The whole little garden where the spring was was charming! I wish we had to eat some sandwiches here. but our schedule was different, the sun was setting and we had to find a place to sleep which was the hardest task on our whole trip (lots of road construction on the way, so the workers occupied all the scarce hotels, motels).

(more in next blog)












Spain 2011 – Aragon

On March 6th we were driving through Aragon. At first we drove down from Berga on C16, then turned left towards Lleida, but didn’t stop anywhere till we reached Calaf:

The reason we stopped there – we needed gasoline. So we felt our duty to park the car and go towards the main cathedral, but saw the same type of a church as everywhere in those parts of Spain, the same squares. Good. So we got our gas, and to tell the truth – a very peculiar truth – this gas was the cheapest we ever came upon in Spain anywhere in our future drivings. Everywhere else the price was the same- whether you pump it in the center of a city or in the suburbs. There is no way of being smart and saving on gas while finding better places where to fill up. that was our experience, except for Calaf :-). That already tell that Calaf is not a tourist destination nor it is a flourishing industrial city.

Driving around Lleida, on the ring highway we missed Rt. 240 towards Monzon and found ourselves by Rio Cinca. Whatever, we drove up by that river and the creatures we saw on a small town’s Osso de Cinca church tower made us stop:

Isn’t strange – storks were nesting on each corner of the tower…

Not only nesting, but living their social life to their fullest with those clacking sounds and lots of trash under the tower :-). And then we reached Monzon and its towering castle on the hill:

We found a very narrow road going up to the castle, but by that time we already felt “castled out”, plus the hazard of driving that one way “hardly to pass road without breaking you car’s mirror or a side door”, so we just looked around in the main square at the bottom of the castle hill and drove out of town.

Next city – Barbastro. They were doing lots of road renovations in the very downtown of it, so we didn’t spend much time there, either, just a pic of their Cathedral:

A stork on top of it:

and a sculpture about their catholic past:

A note: there are olive trees in the background. you can see them in many place sin cities as decoration trees as well as olive groves as plantations for producing olives. Barbastro is described in tourist books as a city of beautiful architecture. We didn’t spend enough time to see something very amazing or different than other cities we have already seen. From Barbastro we kept driving up by river Cinca, saw a couple of dams and lakes on the way – they looked magnificent in between mountains which started to appear and grow bigger and bigger:

There were little old towns, I mean very very old towns on the shores of those lakes – evidently at some point they were built to stand high up on a hill and when people lifted the river water – they found themselves almost on the water, but still picture perfect.

Some of them still stayed high up. New architectural details started to show up – peculiar chimneys:

And soon enough we reached Ainsa – an old fortress town. This time again we didn’t look for a way to drive up, but parked the car at the bottom, therefore letting ourselves get some exercise and climb a not very small hill with the medieval town glued to its top and sides:

Of course, it was a pleasure to walk around in the narrow stone streets where no cars were allowed, alas…

and take pictures of the confluence of two rivers at the bottom of the city hill:

There is a rather big central square close by the fortress of the town, full of restaurants and hotels:

and the fortress walls:

A very impressive town that Ainsa was…It was getting dark, the sun set and we still had to drive by the river Ara towards Hostal Rio Ara. On the way there was this abandoned town Janovas – which we noticed only because a lady at the informattion center in the castle in Ainsa told us to pay attention to it – people were replaced to other areas to live in order to make a dam on river Ara and flood the valley. But then the authorities changed their minds and therefore – the abandoned village…

I have to say that the road by this river was very narrow and at times we had to stop and let another car through. Good the season has not started yet. So there we very few other cars. I thought it would be nice to walk in the ruins of the village Janovas, but we had no time. it was getting late. More about Hostal Rio Ara and the little towns by it – in the next Blog.






Spain 2011 – Catalan Pyrenees

March 5th. Took my mom to the airport which is on very confusing roads by Girona… But luckily we found it in the pitch dark of the early morning. The airport seemed mid size, rather convenient for those who fly in and take a train to Barcelona from there. Then we still rested for a while in the hotel and left towards Banyoles, Besalu, Olot, Ripoll, but didn’t stop anywhere except for our sandwich lunch somewhere on a mountain ridge by Ripoll where we could already see white tips of Pyrenees in between pine trees. The plan was to see Ripoll’s Cathedral, but once we got into the town – we saw such a long flow of cars towards the center, which were mostly standing still, which is called traffic jam -a strange thing to be seen in those remote to our minds areas – maybe because it was Saturday and everyone was heading towards ski resorts. So we lost interest in the cathedral and headed further to Berga. The roads were mountain type and winding…The views were beautiful. There were small castles on the way, we stopped at one of them, and called it “The private castle” – because we forgot its name, I am sure it had it:

It consisted of a church on the highest point of the hill, a tiny cemetery on the right behind that gate, living quarters of the owners, with the whole farming life – livestock hanging around, farm buildings, etc. and a restaurant at the very entrance of this tiny ansamble of medieval buildings:

Life in such a farm seems romantic, especially with the views they have. But is it easy – I doubt…

Then by Berga we drove up another already higher mountain with a castle on top, so here are the views:

The castle has a name-Balsareny, but it looked very plain, just a square simple castle like you see.

We decided to stay in Berga, they have a nice modern hotel Estel, easy to find, easy to leave the town from there. As there was still lots of sunny time of the day we drove a loop visiting Cardona and Solsona which are described in tourist books. Cardona has a big hill of salt on its side. but the sun was shining from that side. we couldn’t take apicture/ Nothing very special about that salt , though, they just mine it there. But it also has a big castle with a Parador in it- a Parador is a Spanish government owned hotel usually installed in an old castle, usually well installed so it can have like 4-5 stars and guests can experience living in very romantic, old, but at the same time comfortable surroundings. But we left this experience for the times we get rich. Here is the view of Cardona:

It seemed very empty and not very charming though the weather that day was perfect. Its cemetery – kind of strange…

the next stop- Solsona. It met us with lots of dressed in colorful clothes people gathered around 4 puppets – so we decided they were celebrating Mardi Gras – or a day before Ash Wednesday. It wasn’t the exact time for that, it wasn’t Tuesday./ but as everywhere where people have to work on Tuesdays, they celebrate it on Saturday. The celebration was obvious only from the gathered kind of Halloween costumed crowds, from decorated narrow streets – each one with different objects – one with handbags, the other with paper garlands or cards or figures, but not from their faces. There were no smiles, everyone very serious… Maybe I am too used to Americans smiling everywhere? But life seems shinier when one smiles! So here are the streets and puppets:

Families and some kind of teams of people had same colored clothes. There was also a stage with music in their main square and as usual – the fair! With cheeses and cured meats form farmers, some local crafts and mostly…bags and other crafts from Thailand…Those Thai people must be very diligent and busy supplying all the world with their handwork…

When we came back to Berga – there was a parade there, too. But we only took one picture. Were mostly filming the dances of the parade, of which they had plenty. Each float had a group of dancers in front of it – like cheerleaders. And who were those dancers- exceptionally girls…Even the pirates of this ship were girls. I wonder what were the boys doing at that time? I bet they were the ones who did the decorations and floats.

Here are some views of Berga (the first one is from our hotel door, next -our hotel rom):

The church that dominates its skyline is old from the outside but very modern inside:

This last one is a mosaic depicting circus and fairy tales over a police station…




Spain – Some Towns South East of Figueres

It was a gloomy 4th of March…Not a good day for driving towards the Mediterranean and sightseeing, but no choice/ Once you are on a trip – you have to travel and try to get as much as possible. The alternative – to see less, but that is not my choice, almost never. So we drove off Figueres on Rt 260 to Llanca which looked like a resort town with many white good villas their window shutters closed for the winter. In other words – the town looked almost dead. So we drove on the coast road towards El Port de la Selva – a fishing village as they call it. Here is how it opened to our eyes:

THere was no problem to park the car and even in that cloudy, windy and rainy day we felt a pleasure walking by the port on boardwalk and then climbing towards its church:

When you look towards sea from there – there is no open sea to be seen, which is a good idea to have a fishing port in such an enclosed bay. It looked very cozy in the gloomy weather, I imagine how it looks on a sunny and warm day.

On the main square by the sea there was a farmers’ market, so we bought some olives, boy, they are tasty, but it is very hard to choose from such a variety:

Then on a windy mountain road we drove back towards Figueres, didn’t turn towards Cadaques, where Dali spent his summers, left for another time, and drove to Empuriabrava. As Everything in thet area is called “Empuris”, we misunderstood it for a place with ancient Greek ruins, which is Sant Marti d’Empuries. But whatever, we had a chance to see a kind of new Venice of Spain -as it is built on marshes, there are canals all over designed like combs, very even, very straight -and every house, evidently, owns a boat:

In search for those Greek ruins we stopped at a town Castello d’Empuries – where we got to a series of nice little squares connected by narrow streets:

Over there we asked at the information center and figured out where the Greek ruins are. And also I am always very interested to see cemeteries – here we traveled already for more than a week -not a single cemetery…Not like in Paris- they are in the middle of the city. So I was told that usually their cemeteries are outside of the cities, and with the help of a map we found Castello’s:

They differ a lot from the cemeteries I have seen – they usually look like a fort or a prison from the outside – just straight walls and you can’t see what is inside/ then you have to enter through the gate and see those walls have shelves for coffins…Some rich families have their chaplets. In that way they take less space, maybe there is a good reason to design them like that. A little bit like the fancy cemetery in Hollywood.

Here is the church of Castello (those cars – they are always in the way of a good pic…):

By the church square:

After leaving Castello we had a hard time finding the right road. Some main circles didn’t mention the town we were heading to: San Pere Pescador. So after driving back and forth on the highway in between the circles – we at last figured it out and found a very good restaurant by the road where they served menu dia – in L’Armentera, heading towards L’Escola. The women servers were very nice with us – they showed us the choices so we didn’t need to worry about not knowing the language…And the choices were very good , the lunch was very big and very tasty. Especially the desert – Crema Catalunya. Did i earlier mention that they serve vine with each lunch…So I got drunk. for I don’t need much, and the rest of the day wasn’t so depressing, though it rained really hard. By the time the three of us, all with our bellies full reached that town with Greek ruins – San Marti d’Empuries -the rain, the ticket you have to buy to get there, the wind and the cloudy skies – didn’t go well together and we decided to drive and and then investigate La Brisbal d’Empordia instead. The town didn’t look very impressive, but still not bad:

I wish my garden was this size and I could keep as neat as this one is:

Only while leaving Brisbal we realized that it is mentioned in tourist books not for its own beauty but for a medieval village on its side. We didn’t have tome to visit it, the day was going towards the close. And we still wanted to see the surroundings of Begur -where we again couldn’t find a road towards some mountain on the coast. but instead we found a tiny resort town Sa Tuna:

Yes, all the windows are still closed everywhere on the coast…Evidently very few people live there year round. You would wonder – oranges grow there like in California -and they use the towns only in summers?

I just have to show you those three mermaids! Spanish seem to have some good humor reflected on their buildings, but not on their faces, which carry very serious expressions. But here are the mermaids from closer so that you can see their teeth:

Some houses have their emblems:

or plants:

After saying good bye to Mediterranean, we drove back to Girona and on the way noticed a town very nicely located on a hill with its church towar sticking in the middle – it was Pals (a very short name in comparison with other visited towns) and we couldn’t resist visting it:

Be prepared, there will be many pictures of this town because we loved it so much! Most of all the towns we visited so far on this trip. Why? Sometimes love cannot be reasonably explained :-):

And here how cold it was – I was wearing Andrei’s winter jacket on my spring jacket and my mom said she has never felt so cold through the whole cold winter of Lithuania this year…:

You can see modern balconies and windows built in those very medieval walls of stone – and everybody seems to be happy, no “Monument preservation” wars… like it would happen if they did it in Vilnius’, Lithuanian capital, old town, I guess…Or maybe not – they built a crazy palace behind Vilnius Cathedral in Lithuania, spoiling the whole view of the Cathedral and the sacred mountain behind it – well, there were some protests…with no results. But here they do it with such a taste, that no one could argue that those big windows enhance the look of the streets.

Evidently this castle on top of the town is owned as a private home, a romantic one!

We seemed to be the only ones in the town that day, except for a girl in a souvenir shop. But it is sometimes nice to be the only ones! especially in a town you fell in love with!

That was a big day! especially having in mind that we with my mom literally ran in the dark to the center of Girona once we got to the hotel – to hear the concert by the Armenian pianist. But it was worth listening and running, except that we were tired…