Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Day 5 - Zaragoza/Madrid

To Madrid by the Pyrenees
Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Zaragoza -- A2 -- Alcolea del Pinar -- CM-2113 -- CM-2021 -- Saelices de la Sal -- CM-2021 -- CM-2113 -- Huertahernando -- Monasterio de Buenafuente del Sistal -- GU-944 -- Cobeta -- CM-2115 -- Zaorejas -- Villanueva de Alcorón -- Peralveche -- Azañón -- Trillo -- Gargoles de Abajo -- N-204  -- Durón -- Urbanizacion El Paraiso -- Las Brisas -- Embalse de Entrepeñas (Sacedón) -- N-320 -- Auñón -- Ciudad Valdeluz -- Guadalajara -- A2 -- Madrid


We picked up the motorbike set with brand new tyres at 10:00 in the morning. Only two blocks away from the garage, we fell in on Plaza de Europa. An place where almost anyone using a vehicle must ride to to enter the city. Philippe braked almost immediately as we saw the 35-meter-high obelisk called "World Axis" that stood there. He wanted to snap a few pictures (see below), as proof there is more in monuments seen in most Western countries than actually meets the eye.

Obelisks (from Greek ὀβελίσκος - obeliskos , meaning "spit" or "pointed pillar") were prominent in the architecture of the ancient Egyptians who placed them at the entrance of temples. They are said to resemble a petrified ray of the Sun-Disk, Aten, known and worshipped as the Creator. The ray symbolizes a link or connection or rising of a deceased king to the heavens and uniting with the Sun. Question(s). Why an obelisk? Erecting a religious monument whether it is ancient or contemporary, is to me a religion act and message not be taken lightly. Is it a tribute to Juan Carlos of Spain? And where are the temples?

Plaza de Europa in Zaragoza, as seen from Paseo de Maria Agustin

"Axis Mundi", the obelisk

The twelve merkabah surrounding the obelisk
The twelve three-dimensional stars around the obelisk were erected as a tribute to the European Union and its original members. If these are a representation of the twelve stars/countries, why not using five-pointed stars instead of six-pointed stars as they shown on the European flag? A six-pointed star, known as merkabah (from Hebrew מרכבה, meaning "chariot") is a very specific Hebrew symbol. It is said to be a vehicle used by ascended masters to connect with and reach those in tune with the higher realms.

South merkaba of Plaza de Europa

Too focused on the obelisk and merkabah, we missed another monument on the other side of Plaza de Europea, the statue of the Quetzal, an endangered species of Guatemalan bird worshipped by Mayans and that very few have been privileged to admire in all its splendor. That makes a lot of highly significant symbols mixed all together, don't you think? I might dwell a little more on the subject and Philippe's own inquiries on contemporary sacred architecture in a next post.

As we were leaving Zaragoza, Philippe suggested we divided our day's program in two. One being dedicated to more smaller trail-orientated roads and the other to highway. Reaching directly Madrid in less than 3 hours would have been an easier choice, but I knew Philippe still felt a little frustrated from yesterday and I did too so I pulled no resistance. We agreed on heading for the reservoir lakes area located in Parque Natural del Alto Tajo in Castile La Mancha, home of Don Quixote, even though we had no idea how it would be like.

About one hour and half later, we exit the highway A-2 at the Alcolea del Pinar junction and took the road CM-2113. The part of Parque Natural del Alto Tajo we were about visit didn't seem to have any keystone attraction for tourists or even to congregate the few of them who were there. Beside the wilderness areas, it was a rural county where typically much of the land is devoted to country towns, agriculture, ermitages and monasteries. 

Our stomachs were already growling for lunch, so we stopped in Saelices de la Sal, where we had the best meal since our arrival in Spain!

Southwest view...

...and northeast view of Saelices de la Sal's main street

The bar where we had lunch

A bunch of cats were sneaking around begging to share our meal.

About eight kilometers after Huertahernando, we reached a junction in the middle of nowhere, I saw a road sign with a church icon on it, reading---Monasterio de Santa María de Buenafuente del Sistal and pointing at the recluse village of Buenafuente only 500 meters away. I tapped on Philippe's shoulder and asked him if we could go and have look. That's what we came across as we entered the village (see below) :

Inside the arched nook underneath the rosette window hides a fountain

I have little remembrance of what happened next, beside three encounters.
The first took place while we were riding through a wood. We had seen hundreds of wild animal road signs in our life but never a roe deer in flesh actually pouncing onto the roadway next to one of these signs! And that's exactly what happened to us, not only once but twice the same day within a span of twenty minutes!

We made our third encounter an hour later as we were having a break to drink water near a housing facility intended for senior citizens. We saw an old man coming to us with a ghetto-blaster on his shoulder (!). Intrigued by our presence, he started talking while pointing constantly at the motorbike. My approximate knowledge of spanish helped me understand he was a soldier and rider too when he was younger. He was so sweet. I couldn't resist taking his picture (see below).

Our last memorable stop was Embalse de Entrepeñas (near Sacedón). We were quite tired and weather was very hot. Watching that breathtaking scenery (see below) made us feel like starved muzzled dogs in a food shop!

Following next :
Day 6/9 - Madrid

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Day 4 - Bagnères-de-Luchon/Zaragoza

To Madrid by the Pyrenees
Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bagnères-de-Luchon -- Saint-Mamet -- D-618A --  N-230 (French/Spanish border) -- Es Bordes -- Aubert -- Vielha e Mijaran -- Vilaller -- Pont de Suert -- Sopera -- Tolva -- Benabarre -- Lleida -- A-2/N-II -- AP-2 -- Zaragoza

Forget stylish stone bridges and medieval villages, today's post is about asphalt and junk food and complaints about the cruel weather gods, among other things.

It had rained all night. As we were fastening the cases onto the motorbike outside the hotel, we checked repeatedly the skies hoping they would clear up, but it seemed that the same dark clouds we saw yesterday had settled over the mountains for good. There was no way we could go east as planned. Goodbye to Luz-le-Sauveur, Aramits and Col de la Pierre Saint-Martin. It was time to resign ourselves to changing completely our itinerary. So we wound up driving south in order to cross the nearest moutain pass and reach Spain.

Sitting on the main entrance stairs of Hotel d'Etigny in Bagnères-de-Luchon
At a gas station outside Bagnères-de-Luchon, we could see in the distance Maladeta's peak. We just couldn't believe that this was where we had no choice but to go to (see picture below). Seriously. Whoever said Spain was a warm and sunny country is a fraud.

Who wants to drive through this?
To our surprise, despite the rainy conditions the moutain pass and road which led us to Spain were very nice but quite difficult. I must say Philippe impressed me a lot. He is such a good driver and a master of patience. We arrived in Pont de Suert safely. Needless to say we were freezing and drenched to the bones.

A more than welcomed tea and coffee break in Pont de Suert…
Our next stop was Lleida, or should I rather say a concrete nightmare. We took the first exit lane and decided no to go much further and remain we were, that is, the suburbia. Definitely not your favorit destination, but we didn't really care for we were starved. Arriving at an unknown place is never easy. Your common sense may be switched off for a while and you are more likely to agree on some snack or junk food that normally you would not. And that's exactly what we did. As a mere compensation rain stopped for lunch break.

Fast and cheap. Our saddest excuse for food and beverage in Lleida...

Knowing that we would take a highway (A-2), we naively believed we were done with driving inconvenience. So wrong! Not only did it start raining again but no one actually warned us a fuel tanker truck and trailer transhumance was taking place that afternoon. And what I mean by transhumance is a procession of hundreds. Dig the picture. Our microscopic motorbike (we were the only one!) like a mouse zigzagging between mammoths' legs. And of course few of these scary vehicles bothered signaling before overtaking. Unbelievable. Too bad we couldn't take any picture. People are right, highways are definitely not motorbike-friendly.

Speaking of motorbike, did I mention earlier our tyres needed to be changed? Well, reaching downtown Zaragoza solved the problem miraculously. Like snap, we found the BMW garage we were looking for. It was now time to have a drink and meal and wifi connection.

You mean tuna-filled pickle cucumber?

Following next :
Day 5 - Zaragoza/Madrid

Monday, July 9, 2012

Day 3 - Quillan/Bagnères-de-Luchon

To Madrid by the Pyrenees
Monday, June 18, 2012

Quillan -- D117 -- Cavirac -- Belvianes-et-Cavirac -- Saint-Martin-Lys -- D117 -- Pont d'Aliès -- D118 -- Axat -- Gesse -- D20 -- Bessède-de-Sault -- Aunat -- Rodome -- D20 -- D107 -- Niort-de-Sault -- Défilé d'Abdoutchis (Gorges du Rébenty) -- Mérial -- La Fajolle -- Col du Pradel -- D107 -- D25B -- Pujal -- Lavail -- D25 -- La Forgé -- Goulours -- Ascou -- D613 -- Ax-les-Thermes -- N20/E9 -- Savignac-les-Ormeaux -- Luzenac -- Albiès -- Ussat-les-Bains -- N20/E9 -- Sabart -- D8 -- Niaux -- Capoulet-et-Junac -- Capoulet -- Vicdessos -- D18 -- Port de Lers -- Etang de Lers -- D8F -- Aulus-les-Bains -- D32 -- La Bouche -- Les Escales -- Ercé -- Oust -- D3 -- Seix -- D17 -- Sentenac-d'Oust -- Bethmale --  Arrien-en-Bethmale -- Les Bordes-sur-Lez -- D4 -- Castillon-en-Couserans -- D804 -- Audressein -- D618 -- Argein -- Aucazein -- Illartein -- Augistrou -- Orgibet -- Augirein -- Saint-Lary -- D618 -- D44 -- Boutx -- Saint-Béat - D44 -- Marignac -- D125 -- Cazaux-Layrisse -- Salles-et-Pratviel -- Moustajon -- Bagnères-de-Luchon

(Click here to see initial Google map)


Wow! It took us only 10 minutes from Quillan before entering the heart of former Cathar territory Pays de Niort. What a treat! Our day's trip started with Défilé d'Adboutchis (Gorges du Rébenty).

Gorges du Rébenty and défilé d'Abdoutchis before you reach the village of Mérial

Shorty after, we drove uphill and arrived in La Forêt domaniale de la Fajolle, a wood natural reserve, where we took no pictures for the road was a bit difficult to ride. I got to mention this despite the lack of evidence, it was so beautiful! Not sure I would have remain quiet, knowing now that wolves and bears can be found there!

An hour and a half later, Philippe ordered tartiflette and salad for lunch break in Ax-les-Thermes.

As we rode on D18 from Vicdessos to Pont de Lers, near Suc-et-Sentenac, we ground to halt because our cameras were eager to shoot.

Port de Lers is said to be high (1517m) and rough mountain pass. For lazy motorized travellers and especially Swiss motorized travellers, it isn't. However, since it has been chosen as a stage of 2011 Tour de France, I might give a new consideration to it. We indeed saw a bunch of trained cyclists on the way, showing proud smile on their face while panting heavily. It seemed that riding this path meant something.

South-east view of Port de Lers and its green pastures and rolling hills and winding D18

North-west view of Pont de Lers. Uh-oh? Fog coming closer...

...and closer!

Philippe filmed the whole thing.

No! Actually, this wasn't fog but a cloud. I could tell by the tiny frozen crystal darts on my skin and that weird smell like smoke bomb. As we were busying ourselves with photoshooting, we realized too late we were surrounded and trapped! See for yourself :

As you can imagine, driving down was a real challenge as visibility was down to barely 5 meters because of cloud cover. We eventually resurfaced 3 kilometers further as we reached Etang de Lers, which is said to be haunted by a beggar's spirit according to a legend.

Etang de Lers

Oh well. With the impending rain in mind combined with exhaustion, we didnt't enjoy the rest of the day's program as much as we should have. Not to mention that the bike's tyres were getting dangerously over-used and demanded urgent change. Maybe what we just had was enough for the day. So we went from one place to the other, as fast as we could, and eventually arrived in Hotel d'Etigny in Bagnères-de-Luchon, a place I had picked up at random and turned out to be the cuttest and coziest hotel of our trip. Strange it is only rated 2 stars...

Outdoor garden terrace at Hotel d'Etigny

Following next :
Day 4 - Bagnères-de-Luchon/Zaragoza

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Day 2 - Privas/Quillan

To Madrid by the Pyrenees
Sunday, June 17, 2012

Privas -- Aubenas -- Saint-Ambroix -- Les Mages -- Alès -- Anduze  -- D133 - Monoblet -- Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort -- D999 -- Ganges -- D110 -- Saint-Laurent-le-Minier -- Montdardier -- D48 -- Madières -- D25 -- Cirques de Navacelles -- Saint-Pierre-de-la-Fage -- Saint-Etienne-de-Gourgas -- Lodève -- D35 -- Lunas -- Bousquet d'Orb -- La Tour-sur-Orb -- Bédarieux -- D908 -- Hérépian -- Le Poujol-sur-Orb --  Olargues -- Saint-Pons-de-Thomières -- D612 -- La Bastide-Rouairoux -- Mazamet -- D118 -- Les Martyrs -- Cuxac-Cabardes -- Villegailhenc -- Carcassonne -- D118 -- Preixan -- Cépie -- Limoux -- Alet-les-Bains -- Campagne-sur-Aude -- Quillan


The previous day was nothing compared this one which was probably one of our longest on the road. We ate up 420km in a raw. Can you belive this? Strangely enough, I have scarce remembrance of it. Not that it was bad or anything (that region of France is gorgeous) but because I took barely any picture. Philippe on the hand did and what you will see here are almost all his.

Our first refreshment and shooting break took place in tourist-packed Anduze, a city worth lingering in.

Anduze's famous clock tower

Camping season being already in full swing, there were absolutely no reastaurant seat available when we arrived starved and sweating in Saint-Laurent-le-Minier.

Camping site in the area of Saint-Laurent-le-Limier

We eventually found a restaurant a little further in Madières, then proceeded on D25 where breathtaking Cirque de Navacelles was waiting for us to take photos.

Cirque de Navacelles

A genuine motorbiking track...

...she or he pretty much enjoyed!!!

It was 3:00 in the afternoon and we were quite exhausted from riding but the beauty of Olargues stroke us and we stopped.


...and cherries sellers, everywhere

Carcassonne was the biggest city we had to drive through before Quillan. I so wished we had more to time to visit.

Cité de Carcassonne

Following next :
Day 3 - Quillan/Bagnères-de-Luchon