Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Spain Day 6: Burgos Cathedral, Madrid and Toledo

After staying in Burgos overnight, we got ourselves organised early to give us enough time to get to the cathedral before starting our driving for the day. So glad we made the time to go back and have a look... inside the cathedral there were so many sub-sections and rooms, each with it's own elaborative theme and incredibly detailed. Thankfully we got to the ticket box just as they were opening which meant we avoided queues and were able to maximise our time in this glorious place.

Unfortunately we had to get back to the car before our meter ran out, plus we were also conscious of how much travel we had ahead of us for that day. Otherwise we could have spent hours taking in the detail of the cathedral.

From Burgos we headed towards Madrid. The original plan had been to try and by-pass Spain's capital but as I re-examined the map, the detour option would add quite a bit of time... so we decided to go into the centre and have a bit of an explore. While waiting (and waiting!) for what ended up being a rather disappointing lunch we realised we weren't far from a tourist bus stop similar to what we had been on in Barcelona. We figured it would be a quick way to see Madrid, and while we were there we might as well see what we could. The highlight however was when we got off the bus, at the same spot we had hopped on, and wandered through Madrid's central park located adjacent to the bus stop. If we had only known!

After walking through the park we headed back to the car and continued on to Toledo—only a half hour drive from Madrid. The view of this old city, perched perfectly on a hill, was spectacular. Unfortunately we couldn't find anywhere to stop and get a picture. Before we knew it we were in the middle of Toledo. Literally in the middle... and rather unsure how to get out of the very narrow streets! And to our horror, the streets just kept getting narrower... and narrower. Concern about getting the car stuck between two buildings soon turned into hysterics as we rounded corner after corner and found ourselves on even narrower streets!!

We finally navigated out of narrow streets and found a parking spot. We then walked back up to the highest point of the town to check out the Alcazar of Toledo, the view and then find a spot for dinner.

As we had accommodation for the night booked in Aranjuez, a 40 minute drive from Toledo, after dinner we made tracks. Returning to Toledo one day is now on the bucket list...

Day 7 next time x

Friday, 29 April 2016

Spain Day 5: Logroño and Burgos

From San Sebastian we decided to head back in the direction of Pamplona and follow by car part of the El Camino trail that Simo was walking so as to get an idea of the sights he would be seeing and terrain he would be covering. So we set our navigation for Logroño and soon found ourselves driving past some pretty spectacular scenery and then spotted a sign that suggested we weren't far from the trail itself.

The front windscreen was getting a bit dirty by this stage of the drive...
Like all good roads trips there was a lot of music as well as chatting in the car. As we reflected about the trip so far we remembered Simo telling us about a "fountain of wine" he would encounter along the trail between Pamplona and Logroño. We thought surely it was a myth... But with a quick (ok, a it actually took awhile!) internet search, we started finding more and more reference to it and finally figured out where to find it. By the time we figured it out, we weren't far from the right exit, so off we decided to detour. Once we found the little town of Estella, to which Mr Google had pointed us to, the next challenge was to find the exact monastery behind which the fountain was located. Clearly this place is supposed to be difficult to find... but finally we found it! We parked the car and wandered around the old monastery until we were right there, standing in front of this wall with two taps: one marked water and the other marked red wine. Not quite what I had pictured but it was there! And it actually had wine! Turns out the fountain is filled with 100 litres per day for pilgrims to be able to stop by and have a small drink on the way through. After all our efforts of finding the place, we had to have a quick taster before continuing on our journey. What a great find!

We finally arrived in Logroño, eager to find a spot for a late lunch. We decided to give the Spanish notion of a large three-course meal a go... the food we had was homely, delicious, and very filling! And given we were eating at 3pm, dinner looked unlikely anytime soon. To try and walk off lunch , and eager to get to Burgos, we wandered back to where we had parked the car, choosing a slightly different route and hoping we didn't get lost. Along the way, we encountered the rather grand Logroño water fountain. Along the trip we had already figured out that in Spain, when you've found the water fountain, you've found the centre of the town or city.

By late afternoon we finally arrived in Burgos and were eager to do some sightseeing. After checking in to the hotel, we grabbed the camera and our jackets and headed into the town centre. Being further to the north and also in-land, our evening in Burgos was definitely the coolest—I just had to hit the shops before sight-seeing to find myself a scarf... a momento of our trip you see ;)

And then onto the sightseeing... and what a sight. The Burgos Cathedral had us absolutely fascinated with its gothic architecture, with the construction dating back to 1221. The detail of the building was incredible, so intricate. We walked around the building for quite some time and then found the sign with opening hours to be able to admire the cathedral from the inside... closed until the 9:30am the following day. We knew our first stop for the morning!

It was time for a glass of sangria, and possibly a couple of tapas (although we still weren't hungry after the big lunch!).

Day 6 next time x

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Spain Day 4: Mountain biking and San Sebastian

On the Tuesday morning we said goodbye to Simo. He was scheduled to catch a bus from Pamplona that afternoon to get the starting point of the El Camino trail just over the French border in St Jean Pied de Port. All the best Simo! We were also heading towards the French border but further west than where Simo was going... we had agreed to meet the owner of BasqueMTB in a little township called Bera de Bidasoa for a day of mountain biking!

It was great to get off the main highways and onto smaller country roads, however for awhile there we were worried we were heading in the wrong direction. Once we confirmed we were on the right track we relaxed and really enjoyed the scenery as we drove through the Pyrenees and into the Basque region of Spain.

The tunnels in this region were incredible!

The day of mountain biking was so much fun, albeit rather challenging at times. We were guided by Doug and Carlos from BasqueMTB as well as someone they were training, and they really did a fantastic job—I couldn't recommend them more highly. The trails are unmarked so we were dependent on the guiding, plus through the company we were able to hire a couple of really good (and new) bikes.

The guys picked trails that suited our ability while still giving us a challenge and being incredibly scenic. We saw some spectacular views that I don't think we would have been able to see otherwise and I successfully rode tracks that only a few months ago I would have thought myself incapable of!

The team were also very knowledgeable about the area, explaining to us what our surroundings were, and overall making the day very enjoyable.

While keen to explore more trails on the bikes, tiredness as well as the time and turning weather conditions convinced us to get back to the car and continue on our journey. We had booked accommodation in San Sebastian... and we couldn't have asked for a better room.

I would love to go back to San Sebastian one day... neither Al or I could stop photographing the view from our window! Being in this magical place was enough to convince us to get dressed up and find a good place for dinner.

The guys at BasqueMTB had told us 'Pinxos' (pronounced pin-chos) was a must for San Sebastian, and the hotel concierge said we couldn't go past Atari's. Both sets of recommendation were bang on, with our evening ultimately being the best we had on the trip.

Whenever we reflect on the trip, mountain biking along the Basque coast and then ending the day in San Sebastian was definitely the highlight. There's really very little that could have made the day better.

Day 5 next time x

Friday, 22 April 2016

Spain Day 3: Barcelona to Pamplona

From Barcelona we hired a car and started our Spanish road trip driving towards the north, with our accommodation for that night booked in Pamplona.

Day 3 saw us travel the most kilometres in one day for the entire trip, but by leaving reasonably early we still had plenty of time to make a couple of stops and see more of Spain.

Our first stop was Lleida, also sometimes referred to as Lerida. We did a quick online search for the 'must-see' in the city however it rapidly became obvious as we approached. La Seu Villa, an old cathedral as well as a former king's castle on the same site. The cathedral, which dates back to the 13th century, was closed for entry however we still enjoyed wandering around and taking in the views. 

From Lleida we continued to Zaragoza, where we had lunch before exploring another basilica: the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, beautifully positioned near the water.

Another quick online search revealed that the best views of the city were in fact from the top of the basilica. So off we went to find the entrance. After paying our 3 euros, we went up in a glass elevator... and then kept climbing up the winding staircase... until we were around 80 meters high in one of the bell towers. While not for the faint hearted, the views were amazing. The colours and moorish tiling on the basilica roof appeared like quilt-work. I loved it, could have stayed for ages! 

Beating the drizzle back to the car, we continued on the drive to Pamplona. My particular talent of getting poles, signs or trees in my photos as I snapped away while Al drove quickly became apparent... and soon became a running joke for our holiday! What can I say, I wanted to remember the signposts.

Finally we arrived in Pamplona and found our apartment for the night... located next to where they famously run the bulls each July. After dinner with Simo, Al and I walked the entire 'encierro' (running of the bulls) path from start to finish. We're looking forward to watching it later this year on tv knowing we've been there :)

Day 4 next time x