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Entries about walking

Southern France

From Toulouse to Nice (before heading into Italy...)

sunny 28 °C

Can I admit that I'm actually far too busy to regularly write a blog post? Only reason I'm writing this now is that I've just arrived in Pisa, needed something on my car seeing to, and as it's rather sweltering outside, I figured I'd stay in my air-conditioned Airbnb until heading out for dinner later. So I had a few spare minutes at least...

Anyway, my last post ended with my visit to Andorra. Still have some great memories of that place, and I thoroughly enjoyed my journey back into France. I took the old route, avoiding the tunnel, and had some great views passing over the top of the mountains. Going down the other side was quite amusing, particularly once I hit the border and the line of cars looking to enter Andorra, mostly French cars and people, looking for the cheap booze and fags on offer.

I was staying with a local in Toulouse but not through Airbnb, organising it through Booking.com. I hadn't been aware that was on offer and it is something I'll keep an eye out for later. Anyway, Michel was a lovely gentleman, spoke great English, and we enjoyed some good conversations, when I was about.

As I was only spend three nights / two days in Toulouse, I had plenty of time to wander and looking around. Being France, most museums were closed on Monday but I could still wander and take in the sights, the cathedral, basilica and other churches, while also just walking the streets. One thing I learned quickly is that Toulouse shared one thing in common with Bordeaux - the great pubs on offer! One pub I'd visited in Bordeaux was the Frog & Rosbif, and they had another pub in Toulouse. These sort of pubs are also good places to find fellow English speakers, and I eventually found myself chatting with an English RAF serviceman by the name of James. Top lad, and it was amusing to hear he was based only a few miles from where I used to and still live in the UK.

My second day was much like the first, though this time I visited a few museums, learning that Toulouse was once a Roman city by the name of Tolosa. Few Roman remains are left around the city, but the museum I visited was interesting, with quite a bit of information in English. Found museums can be very hit and miss regarding that, depending on the city you are in. I eventually ended up on the other side of the river, away from the centre, but to be honest, there wasn't much on offer. The one place I did want to visit was closed on Monday and Tuesday. Just my luck sometimes!

I can definitely recommend Toulouse as a place to visit. Plenty of places speak at least a little English, and as always, they appreciate if you at least try a little French.

On the way to Avignon, my second destination of three, I stopped at two places on the one. The first was rather unplanned until Michel suggested I really do stop there, a city by the name of Carcassone. I'm glad I did, as although I only spent maybe 90 minutes there, it was certainly an interesting old city, though absolutely teeming with tourists (yes, yes, I know I'm one of them!)

My second stop was planned, and had been on my itinerary from the moment I planned the whole thing. Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct still in great condition. Knowing they were onto a good thing, the French have built an entire park around it, with all sort of restaurants, exhibitions and a museum. Plus you can also take a towel and your swimmers and go for a drip in the river, if you're so inclined. Anyway, the place was as spectacular as I imagined, while the museum was interesting, giving plenty of information about the construction of the aqueduct, but also the history of the region itself, mentioning one city that I would be visiting later on.

Avignon is a lovely French city, one perhaps overlooked by many tourists, though that's not to say I didn't run into a lot of them! I was staying in another Airbnb, not far from the centre. The first day was, of course, wandering Avignon. First thing was the whole reason I was there. The Papal Palace. And, I'll admit to be... slightly disappointed. I'd read plenty of reviews, and while it wasn't awful, nearly all the walls were bare, though there were plenty of artefacts to see. The walls that were still painted, and a couple were magnificent, we weren't allowed to take photos of those. But the rest of the palace was brought to life by THE PAD! Given some headphones and it give the history of the palace and the popes who resided in it.

The second major attraction is the bridge. There's bugger all left of it standing now, but again, in addition to the bridge was a museum which gave plenty of history and the one amusing feature was the rumour about the bridge. Was it ever completely finished? And, if it was, what was it like? According to the museum, it was built, but collapsed centuries ago, and was probably a good idea poorly implemented.

Avignon is full of museums to see, and just wandering the old city can see yourself finding little cafes to sit and enjoy a beer or coffee, or perhaps a small shop or museum. I followed one of the trails on the map which took me through the medieval heart, the streets and paths where cars simply cannot go. Stopped for the occasional beer before hitting the pubs for happy hour. France do love their happy hours!

Next day was a trip to Nimes, another French town with strong Roman origins. The main attraction is, of course, the Arena. Around two thousand years old, it's fair to say perhaps half of it is the original as it had required plenty of work over time. But it's still spectacular, again an audioguide provided, giving history of the arena itself, but they also focused on the gladiatorial contests that once took part. I guess they found a lot of information about them so added that in. The arena is still open to this very day as it will host plenty of concerts during the summer.

Nimes is a gorgeous old city, the old town full of narrow streets, again inhibiting cars from going down most of them. The ruins of a couple of Roman temples are definite attractions, and if you don't mind walking up a steep hill, you can also climb the remains of a tower overlooking the entire city. Admittedly, I'm not a real fan of heights. If I feel completely 'safe', I'm okay, but the climb up the tower itself was narrow, and... well, let's just I didn't look down until I was at the very top! The climb was worth it, though. The view was outstanding.

Day three was another day trip, this time to Arles, another old town with Roman origins. Again, this had an arena, in roughly the same condition as Nimes. But Arles is perhaps more famous as the home of Vincent van Gogh. He only lived there for around a year, but the city takes pride in the fact one of the world's most famous artists once lived there. If you look at his Wikipedia page, his work while in Arles was prolific, but don't expect any museums in the city to have any of his work. Anything to do with van Gogh in the city is simply to entice tourists who don't know any better!

There is a fantastic archaeological museum worth checking out, just a little outside the centre (a 15 minute walk at most). The best exhibit there is of an old Roman ship, which laid buried under sediment in the nearby river for two millennia. Dug up and painstakingly restored, it now takes pride of place in a new part of the museum. Unfortunately, this new part is the only one that really provides English translations of all the exhibits. The other areas, while incredibly interesting, had next to no English translations. Slightly disappointing, but at least entry was free that day!

To be honest, I could have spent another couple of days in Avignon, as there is Orange and Aix-en-Provence nearby that are also interesting to visit. Perhaps another time...

Anyway, my third and final destination in southern France was Nice. Now while I had the idea of travelling the coast road instead of the autoroute, I knew, at this time of year and the day I was travelling, the traffic would be horrendous. So I took the probably quicker way. My Airbnb in Nice was another apartment, quite smaller than my one in Avignon, but I didn't plan on staying there too much during the day, though it was still quite the walk from the centre.

As always, day one would be spent in Nice, but let's be honest, you don't go to Nice to spend all day walking around. You go to stroll the promenade, perhaps wander the old town, definitely hit a beach and just... relax. So the morning and early afternoon was spent doing the 'touristy' things, particularly going up the nearby ruined castle / fort to take in the views. Spectacular! Other than that, it was a wander around the old town, but to be honest, it was far too hot to be walking kilometres around town, so I made sure to stop every so often for... something cold... perhaps with some alcohol in it...

Made a friend that night in another pub, this one with an Irish theme. Yes, yes, shoot me for being typical but all the bar staff spoke English. In fact, most were Irish or American, and one or two couldn't even speak French! Anyway, made a friend that night by the name of Grant, and he was a drinking buddy the next three nights.

Day two was a trip to Monaco. It just had to be done. After grabbing a map, not that I needed one for what I wanted to do first, I walked the track, taking my time, and an enormous number of photos were taken during my walk. Took perhaps a couple of hours, before heading up towards the palace, which provided even better views of the whole of Monaco. The final thing for me to visit was a museum full of cars owned by Prince Rainier (and probably owned by Prince Albert) now. Though called a museum, it's actually a private collection. Quite a few F1 cars, sports cars and normal cars... though I'm not sure you can call a few Rolls-Royce's 'normal' cars. It was a great collection, though, an obvious sign of the family wealth.

But Monaco wasn't as expensive as feared, at least when it came to food and drink. Never paid for more than €5 for a beer, and food was cheap as well. Just stay away from the harbour-front, look around for deals, and it could definitely be cheaper than Monaco. Wouldn't want to know how much a night in a hotel cost though. An Airbnb would probably be far too expensive too! (Doubt anyone would even offer, to be honest.)

My last day in southern France was one of relaxation. I stayed in Nice and did precisely nothing. Woke up, slowly walked into town, had a rather ordinary lunch (suckered in by one of those cheap three-course meals. Should have read TripAdvisor first!) before enjoying one or two cheap beers, before meeting my drinking buddy for a final night of revelry. In addition to him, we were joined by all sorts. Remember chatting with a Canadian fellow who'd just moved to Nice, and also an old American guy who was living life to the full now that he was retired and widowed. It was a long night, probably not the best idea considering I was leaving the next day, but it was well worth it.

The next day, I did need a couple of hours to feel right before I left. It was time for country number eight of the trip so far.

ITALY!

Posted by benjamin2981 08:26 Archived in France Tagged beaches road_trip walking beach palace palaces cathedral roman hot nice nightlife avignon arena monaco toulouse arles heat arenas nimes roman_history Comments (0)

Sevilla, Cadiz and Gilbraltar

Andalusia and the last time I'll be in an English speaking majority for... a few months!

sunny

Apologies for anyone following this, I've been on the road for over two weeks, didn't take my laptop, so I'll be writing the following just from photos taken and memories. I'll have another blog post up quite quickly, covering where I've just returned from. (I'm currently in a nice apartment in Granada...)

Anyway, my last post was regarding my quick adventure through Portugal. Thoroughly enjoyable, and it's somewhere I would like to spend more time in the future. Damn Schengen rules...

The drive from Sintra to Sevilla was the longest of the trip so far at 308 miles. That's just under 500 kilometres. Didn't do it all in one hit, though I only stopped for fuel and a quick drink before finishing the drive. Experienced the first really bad traffic of the trip so far. It sucked. I was delayed by a good half an hour, but that didn't particularly matter. My Airbnb wasn't exactly in the centre, though I knew that when booking it. Dos Hermanos is only a short metro ride away from the centre, and was convenient for me regarding my car, as there was ample parking. My hosts were fantastic as well. It was a husband and wife team. The husband didn't speak any English, though we managed to communicate through hand gestures, his wife spoke enough that we could communicate, and she was certainly very helpful regarding my stay.

My two days in Sevilla were spent pretty much just seeing all the sights possible. Of course, that meant the Plaza de Espana, the cathedral and the Alcazar, while I also participated in my first walking tour of the trip to get a better understanding, and also learn some tips from fellow travellers. I said it to people at the time, but Sevilla definitely goes into my top three beautiful cities, for the time being. The locals were friendly and accommodating, though it was also the first time I was surrounded by many fellow tourists. Sintra was busy, but Sevilla was something else. Crowds everywhere!

During my second evening, my Airbnb host organised an evening of flamenco. There are plenty of stories as to the origins of flamenco (is it actually Spanish or imported?) but that's an argument for another time. All I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed the ninety minute show, as did the people I was sharing the table with. Dancers would also perform on the street for tips, one such couple performing as I waited in line for the cathedral.

The weather had certainly warmed up during my trip through Portugal, and by the time I arrived in Cadiz, summer had almost arrived. Sevilla had been quite warm, so I was pleased to be by the ocean at least, my Airbnb only a stones throw away from the seven kilometre long seafront. I could see it was still just out of season, though, as I was told later the beach would be full of sunbathers or swimmers at the height of summer. While I was there? Not deserted but not the crowds one would expect.

I did my second walking tour during my first day, as although I'd done a little research on Cadiz, it wasn't an extensive as other places. Our guide, Mario, was brilliant, with plenty of funny stories regarding the history of Cadiz, and he more than earned his tip. Cadiz isn't a particularly large city, and although geared towards tourists, proven by the fact four cruise ships arrived while I was there, I think most come for sand, sea and surf rather than culture. Still, I managed to occupy myself for two days, finding a number of bars to enjoy a drink and tapas. The Champions League semi-finals were on during my time there, and I found I believe the only Liverpool supporter in Cadiz during my first night! The second night, I was in a different bar sat next to some Dutch guys as they watched their team lose in the last minute. I'm fairly sure they would have been drinking all night...

Again, it was only a short two day / three night stay before moving on again, my next destination Gibraltar.

I had to park my car on the opposite side of the border, as driving in Gibraltar isn't easy, and parking is non-existent for non-residents. And as I was leaving Schengen, I didn't want to return until I had to. That meant ensuring I had everything I needed in my bag before crossing the frontier. (Thankfully, I didn't forget anything!)

My first night in Gibraltar, again at an Airbnb, was again by myself. My hostess, Marie, was fantastic, enjoying a long chat upon arrival as she shares a real love of travel too. I spent my first full day in Gibraltar not doing a hell of a lot as I was waiting for a friend to arrive. Ryan flew in later that night, and after settling in, we headed out for a catch up drink.

The next day, we caught the cable car to the top of the Rock, taking in some of the spectacular views from the viewing platforms. It was a clear, sunny and hot day, and it's true, you can see Africa clearly. We then spent a few hours walking down the Rock (as others were running or walking up it for a charity event), stopping at a few sights along the way. One was an old battery, the gun still in place, which did give the best view of Africa. There were also some old tunnels, from various sieges and the two wars, a few memorials dedicated to various services, and also the remains of a Moorish castle from centuries ago. By the time we arrived at the bottom, we were both knackered so, after a wash back at the Airbnb, headed out from some dinner and drinks.

That was Saturday. On Sunday, we planned to do as little possible. It would be my first day of doing practically nothing since leaving, and I aimed to take advantage of it. The best idea was to head to the biggest sports bar in Gibraltar to watch the Formula One then the last day of the Premier League. The place was crowded, as expected, downing a few ciders in the sun. Once that was over, we had a bite to eat before heading back to shower, then returned to the very same place!

And that was the end of the European adventure, part one. On the Monday, we bid farewell to Gibraltar, loading up my car for the short drive to Tarifa. After parking up, we ended up having a rather torrid day. Firstly, we were told the ferry was delayed, unsure of when it would be sailing, and we were advised to head to Algeciras later the same day (having waited until noon for news!) We caught the bus there, only to be told upon arrival that ferries were now sailing for Tangier from Tarifa. So we had to hop a second bus back to Tarifa, eventually boarding the ferry around 5pm.

It would be a ninety minute sailing to Morocco, which will be covered in the next post.

Posted by benjamin2981 08:15 Archived in Spain Tagged beaches alcazar road_trip walking driving cadiz cathedral drinking old_city ferry old_town sevilla gibraltar flamenco the_rock Comments (0)

Country No. 3 - Portugal

Porto and Sintra only. Would have loved to stay longer...

sunny 23 °C

I'm not sure if it's just me, or if many have had the same luck, but all of my Airbnb hosts, even those I didn't get the chance to meet, have been nothing short of fantastic.

My drive to Porto from Santiago was fairly straight forward, though I did worry when entering Portugal and the motorway. Through France and Spain, my little tags would beep to state payment would be taken. It doesn't beep in Portugal, so I wasn't sure if it worked or not. (I'd only find out leaving Porto for Sintra that it was all okay.)

Motorways in Portugal, outside of the main cities, are practically empty. But the drivers? Well, they are... pretty bad. Didn't come close to an accident, but watching some of the antics on display was amusing. Entering Porto wasn't particularly difficult, though I had to ignore the sat-nav more than once due to never ending roadworks on the approach to my Airbnb. Managed to snag a parking spot close by and unload my stuff.

Most of my communication prior to arriving was with Lurdes, but it was Aderito who sat me down and went through everything with me. Utterly fantastic, as basically gave me a two-day itinerary with the map he had. The little cottage I had was perfectly suitable for my needs, so I headed straight out into town, as I had arrived rather early. All I wanted was a beer or two, avoiding most of the tourist sites as I would spend the next two days wandering. I found a sports bar, conveniently located close to my Airbnb, and admittedly I spent a couple of hours there each night as they were playing the Champions League semi-finals, and I can't remember the last time I watched any Champions League!

I spent two days walking around Porto, the first day covering 28 kms, the second day a paltry 17.7 kms. The first day I took the tram out to the very west of the city by the coastline. It was rather misty to start with and I was worried I'd be in for disappointment. But after sitting down for a coffee, I waited until it cleared, turning into a gorgeous, sunny and warm day. I followed the coastline for a good few kilometres before turning inland, wandering here, there and everywhere, mostly following the guidance of Aderito, who didn't disappoint. Visited another contemporary art museum, but could also wander the parks and gardens. I spent hours walking that first day, so was absolutely knackered upon returning to my Airbnb, though after a shower, headed out for at least a couple of drinks.

Day two was more of the same, though sticking to the inner city and I guess more 'touristy' parts. I had lunch at Cafe Santiago, where I feasted on a Francesinha Santiago. Basically a sandwich full of meat, covered in cheese, with a fried egg on top. Calorific, but utterly delicious and I managed to polish off the whole thing. Other than that, it was just another day of wandering. I could list every monument I saw and photographed... But I can only say that you should definitely visit Porto. It's beautiful when the sun is out, particularly if you're by the river. If you cross the river and head to towards another museum, you get some breathtaking views of the old town.

I would have loved to have spent another couple of days in Porto, wandering the narrow streets and simply kicking back and relaxing. I left early on my last day there, and had a mini heart attack when I found the garage I had parked my car in closed. Thankfully the man responsible, who didn't speak any English, turned up, mimicking that he was just eating breakfast.

During the drive to Sintra, I figured I'd stop off by the coast, eventually stopping at a town called Nazaré. For those who don't know, it's where some of the biggest waves in the world have been surfed. There were no enormous waves on the day of my visit, but I spent a couple of hours walking the promenade before taking the funicular up to the nearby hill, the town basically split in two. Again, some stunning views on display, and if I ever return to Portugal, I'll spent a couple of weeks slowly working my way north to south, or vice versa, and would definitely spend a couple of days lazing on the beach.

I'd heard Sintra could be very expensive, and although I spent €30 paying for entry into parks and palaces, everything else was as reasonable as Porto. My host, Filipe, was again fantastic, full of advice, particularly about where to have dinner, which I chose to visit on my second night. I only had one full day in Sintra, so had to make the most of it. Standing in line for the bus, I started talking to a Dutch family, and as we were well to the back of the line, they asked if I'd like to join them on a tuk-tuk. I'm on holiday, so why not? The driver was a bloody mad-man, spending half his time turning around to talk to us, but it was bloody good fun too, though I prayed to all the gods that we arrived in one piece.

The Palacio de Pena was beautiful, and I'm glad we got there as early as we did, as the line I noticed upon leaving was horrific. The park surrounding the palace was stunning, glad I'd taken my hayfever tablet, and I climbed to the highest point in the park, where the High Cross is located. The Moorish Castle was also good fun to walk around, climbing to the very top, where more views could be taken in. And finally, I walked all the way back to the historical centre to visit Sintra Palace. I didn't walk as far as Bilbao or Porto, but I certainly did a lot more climbing!

My last night in Sintra was spent at a local restaurant, partaking in a dish of Portuguese food, before heading out to enjoy a couple of beers before heading back to my Airbnb. The last place I was in had a guy with a guitar, and he was a rather good singer, so I ended up staying for a couple, just to listen. The football on TV in the background was also a good reason to stay.

And that was it. I know I could have done so much more in Portugal, but as I've said time and again, I'm just limited by what I can see and do. However, there is always the chance of another trip in the future, so perhaps I can visit a few places I've had to miss this time around.

Posted by benjamin2981 08:59 Archived in Portugal Tagged museums road_trip walking history driving palaces portugal old_town porto sintra airbnb historical_centre Comments (0)

Travelling the Basque Country, Asturias and Galicia

Bilbao, Oviedo and Santiago de Compestela. No, I wasn't doing the Camino...

all seasons in one day

Should probably write more often but... *shrugs*

After having a great time in Bordeaux, it was time to say 'au revoir' to France, at least for the time being, and head into country number two of this epic trip, Spain. I'd read a number of good things about Bilbao prior to arriving so wondered if not hoped expectations would meet reality. I hit my first minor problem upon entering Spain when my signal dropped out completely. Stupid old me didn't think about just restarting my phone until day two...

Anyway, my Airbnb was in a suburb of Bilbao called Sondika. A nice place though with no Wi-Fi! First time I've had that happen. My own fault, I obviously didn't check prior to booking, but it wasn't a major problem as I was only there to sleep. Sondika was only a short ten minute train trip into the centre itself, the only problem being I was in Bilbao during Easter Weekend, so for all three days I was there, it was a weekend timetable, meaning a train only ever half hour.

My first impressions of Bilbao, and of the Basque people, is one of a fiercely independent people, more than aware of the history between the Basque and central Spanish government over the decades. I had arrived not only over Easter but during an event called Basque Fest, basically a celebration of their culture, history and basically their nation. And there was not a Spanish flag in sight. Plus everything is in Basque first, then Spanish, and even English in the touristy parts. And that makes you think 'Some of these people would speak at the very least three languages!'

What do I remember most about my time in Bilbao? Two things. One, the Guggenheim Museum. Great building, full of interesting things. But I just don't get modern or contemporary art. Probably too stupid to understand it! Two, pintxos! (Tapas to the rest of Spain.) Any tavern, cafe or bar I walked into, the bar was lined with little snacks ready to be eaten. I didn't eat a meal the entire time I was in Bilbao, I survived on pintxos. And my Airbnb host, Gerard, informed me of a local drink called kalimotxo, which is a mix of red wine and cola. Tastes good and drank plenty of that too.

My first day, I walked 24km. My second day, not as much. I spent a lot of time in Casco Viejo, the old part of the city, in addition to wandering the banks of the estuary and basically checking out as much as I could. I thought Sunday would be a damp squib being Easter Sunday, but many things were still open. I did head to the main cathedral to watch the procession regarding the resurrection and I think there were more tourists there watching than natives. I also had the chance to ride my first funicular of the trip. If your city has one, I will find out about it, I will travel there, and I will ride it. Gave some stunning views of Bilbao, particularly as it was a bright sunny day.

I left Bilbao on Easter Monday, ready to head further east. My next port of call was a small city by the name of Oviedo, in Asturias. I'll be honest, there are only two reasons I picked Oviedo as a place to stay. One, it was about halfway between Bilbao and Santiago de Compestela, so a good place to take a break. And, two, I knew Fernando Alonso was from nearby.

I only spent two nights in Oviedo, so had treated myself to a bit of luxury in a four star hotel. It was a nice place, though I embarrassed myself upon arriving by forgetting everything is on the opposite side to my driving position, so missed the intercom and was stuck trying to enter the garage until someone arrived behind me to open the doors!

Oviedo is tiny so I didn't need more than a day anyway. The cathedral is definitely worth checking out, though as usual, the audioguide could drag on a bit at times. There were some other nice buildings around definitely worth checking out, but I'm delaying what I really want to talk about.

Sidra!

It's not just the sidra itself, which is an utter joy to drink. No, it's the way they pour it. Never seen anything so entertaining, but apparently there is a good reason for the way they do it, as it releases all the flavour. Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but I enjoyed a few bottles while I was there. And it was cheap! A 700ml bottle never cost me more then €3. In fact, Spain in general has proven much cheaper than France. Expected, of course, but not to the difference I've noticed so far. I had lunch during my only full day there, including a local dish, Fabada Asturiana, which is a bean soup with some pork and chorizo, some tapas and a beer for only €12!

I'm glad I did stay in Oviedo, though didn't need more than a day. However, while I was there, I signed up on an app called blablacar. Basically I place an ad saying I'm driving from place to place and if anyone wants a lift, they can send me a message. From Oviedo to Santiago, I had a passenger, Portuguese guy named Rui. We must have talked nearly the entire way and it certainly helped pass the time. I won't do it all the time, particularly as I'm aware it's not popular all over Europe, but it's something I'll definitely offer from time to time.

Anyway, next stop was four nights in Santiago de Compostela. After dropping Rui at the bus station, my Airbnb was literally a two minute drive away. But I noticed immediately that parking would be difficult. No chance of finding a spot outside the apartment. Eventually found one a couple of streets away, and I knew then and there that I wouldn't be using my car again until I left. The host's contact, Esther, was very friendly and helpful, and we managed to communicate through my lack of any real Spanish. It had been a long old grind since leaving Calais so, I'll admit, that night, I grabbed some Domino's from a shop barely a few metres away and took it easy.

I had three full days to fill. The first day was Santiago itself. Unfortunately, though I've had a few overcast or cold days, this was the first day where it rained. And it pretty much drizzled all day. The tourist office was helpful as always, giving me plenty of tips on what to see and do. Despite being small, I found myself doing quite a lot of walking. The cathedral was my first real disappointment as it was undergoing a lot of refurbishment, so nearly everything was covered up. But I found a couple of other churches that more than made up for it. But the one thing any visitor would notice would be all the pilgrims completing the Camino. Dozens and dozens of people enter the centre of the city with their backpacks and walking sticks. I talked with a few people who'd done it and they gave me plenty of advice if I ever thought of doing it myself. With all the walking I'm currently doing, I could see myself doing it in a few years... maybe...

Anyway, my second day was my first organised, or guided tour of my holiday. I don't plan on doing many of them, but my original plan was to drive to Fisterra. I'm glad I didn't, as the tour I participated in was fantastic. I'd met an Italian guy, Andrea, in a pub the previous evening, and he was on the same tour, finding myself chatting away with a few South Africans too, who had also completed the Camino. The tour took in some of the major sights of Galicia. We visited a Sanctuary in Muxia, St. Mary of the Boats, and the church was right on the shores of the Atlantic. Next was Fisterra, and I'm glad I didn't do it alone, otherwise I'd have just driven there, taken a few photos', grabbed a magnet, and headed back to Santiago. After that was a waterfall in Dumbria, though we couldn't get too close due to construction. before stopping for lunch in Muros. Andrea and I shared a massive portion of monkfish and clams. Never had either before, and it was clear the food was fresh. Very tasty. Last stop was Ponte Maceira, a stones throw away from Santiago, where we took a few photos and walked across a 12th century bridge. It was quite an enjoyable day and well worth the price.

My third day was a bus trip to Lugo. I paid less than €15 for a return ticket, though it did require me rising bloody early. At least the bus trip to and from was uneventful, though I wouldn't call it scenic, as the bus mostly followed the motorways, though we did go through A Coruna. The Roman walls surrounding Lugo old town were nearly as good as I expected. I'll admit, I was expecting a bit more sandstone or something, but I walked along their entire length, getting some nice shots of the walls and the old town. I then spent a couple of hours walking along nearly every street within the walls, having a spot of lunch in the early afternoon, before enjoying a couple of beers in the afternoon sun waiting for my bus. I had my first instance of being served by someone who didn't know any English at all. Thank Odin for Google translate!

And as quickly as it began, my trip in Spain was over, albeit only temporarily. Next stop, country number three, Portugal!

Posted by benjamin2981 11:53 Archived in Spain Tagged road_trip walking history driving cathedral tour galicia pilgrims oviedo bilbao camino asturias basque_country santiago_de_compestela bilbao_fest guided_tour bus_trip Comments (0)

Day 11 / 12 - Orléans, or How I'm now a Jeanne D'Arc devotee

Drove - 124 miles from Le Mans to Orléans via Chartres / 19881 steps (11th) / 16784 steps (12th)

sunny

I’ll admit, Le Mans had been a surprise. First by how pretty it was, but I’d also made some friends, a couple who I’ve already been keeping in touch with. I guess that’s the whole point to solo travel, to meet new people, but considering my French is bloody awful (I can read it better than speak or understand), I’ve been lucky in that I’ve met people who speak decent English.

But after yet only another couple of days, it was time to hit the highway. This time I was heading the closest to Paris I probably will during this trip, hitting the autoroute towards Chartres. Admittedly, I was only going to the city for one thing, to see it’s cathedral. I’m sure those of you still reading this are thinking ‘But Benjamin, you are not religious. Why all the cathedrals?’ Because they’re architecturally stunning and you don’t have to be a devotee to God to understand the symbolism.

I managed to find a spot to park in the only free car park in Chartres then walked up a monster of a hill. After picking up a map from the tourist office, I headed straight for the cathedral. I will now have to compare that one to Le Mans, and there are ever more cathedrals the longer I travel. The one in Chartres is magnificent though, and I can only recommend it. But there is more to Chartres than just the cathedral, and I did spend a couple of hours wandering the streets, grabbed a spot of lunch (a baguette filled with everything, I didn’t even realise!) and completed what I guess was the ‘tourist trail’, taking a few photo’s but generally just appreciating how peaceful it was. I reckon Parisians head to Chartres to get away from the hectic lifestyle of the capital!

Leaving Chartres, I avoided the autoroute that would take me to Orléans, instead sticking to the N or D roads, hoping I’d be provided with some sights on the way. Well, while I did pass through one or two pretty villages, the one word to describe most if it is… flat. Just lots and lots of farmland. And there were a lot, and I mean a lot, of wind turbines. Kind of kills the view…

Then there were the trucks I got stuck behind, and driving a right-hand drive car in Europe can make one slightly apprehensive when trying to pass, as I’m on the wrong side to see past, though I’ve managed well so far. I just don’t take big risks, making sure there is definitely nothing on the horizon before passing.

Thankfully the sat-nav didn’t try to take me around the houses going into Orléans, pretty much taking me through the town and straight to my place. Caterine had messaged that she would be heading off to Paris, but she was still home when I arrived, so at least we got to meet each other. Her English was fantastic, so communicating was a breeze, and she was friendly and very informative about what I could see in the city. We probably spoke for around fifteen minutes before she left for Paris.

That left me a house to myself. I will admit something. The driving does make me tired, as I feel I’m having to concentrate just that little bit more, particularly regarding speed limits, and French drivers love to tailgate (and not just me, I notice it when cars are going in the opposite direction.) There’s more to it than just that, but most days of driving results in me not doing too much that first night. So I headed to the local supermarket, grabbed some food and a couple of beers, and spent the night catching up on things I may have missed. Or, even better, watching things that are geoblocked on Youtube back in the UK!

The next two days were about one simple thing, or one person. Jeanne D’Arc, better known as Joan of Arc to the English speaking world. I don’t think I’ll ever visit a city as devoted to one icon as Orléans is to Jeanne D’Arc.

Streets, shops, café’s, you name it, there is something named after her. And there are numerous statues around the city as well. In addition, there is a festival every May 8th that celebrates her liberation of the city in 1429. Her house (rebuilt after being destroyed in WWII) is probably a site of pilgrimage for some. I found it a little disappointing, as there was only a movie played that showed the story of her life, along with a timeline and one or two other small things. I thought they would have had a recreation of what it might have looked like at the time.

The main cathedral has a shrine devoted to her, considering she is a saint. The stained glass windows along both sides tell her life story in ten stages. There was another church I visited, the Notre Dame des Miracles, which doesn’t look like a church from the outside, but inside, there was more devotion to her. In fact, I think it was slightly more moving than the cathedral.

I think it’s safe to say that Orléans will never forget Jeanne D’Arc!

Other than anything relating to her, I visited my first art museum of the trip. I don’t know art, but I did spend a couple of hours looking at some very pretty paintings. And I don’t know about you, but is contemporary just… I don’t know, weird in comparison? Anyway, there were a couple of rooms that left me staggered, the number of paintings, how large and full of life they were. I remember one in particular, not its name, but I do remember the eyes. It was like they were watching you in return.

Even the streets were beautiful. Walking down the Rue Jeanne D’Arc or the Rue Royale had me stopping to take pictures. I’m sure a lot of it was rebuilt after the war, but I’m fairly sure they’ve done it to match what it must have looked like before.

I even walked through a garden, though only because I found it amusing it was named after Louis Pasteur. Again, out of season as I missed the opportunity to ride a little train that goes around the park. (Joking, as it’s for kids… or am I?)

Finally, one cannot talk of travelling and not mention food and drinking. The happening place is Rue de Bourgogne (Burgundy. I didn’t even attempt to pronounce it the French way and ruin it) though, for scenery, a stop down by the Loire is a must on a sunny afternoon.

Anyway, Rue de Bourgogne is full of pubs, clubs and restaurants, it’s where I spent both evenings. Most pubs and bars had a 3 hour long ‘happy hour’, while I enjoyed a real ‘French’ lunch my first day. Can’t remember the name of the restaurant (and having trouble finding it on Google) but I had a 3 course meal (entreé, plats du jour and dessert) with a pint of beer, for only €22. Didn’t have to eat again that day! And the lady who served me, who suffered through my poor French, while she spoke a little English, was a delight. A real laugh, no doubt at my expense probably!

And so ends my three night/ two day stay in Orléans. Long enough to soak in the culture, see the sights, and enjoy myself. Thing is, if Schengen wasn’t the thorn it can be and is, I would have spent longer and driven around visiting nearby chateau’s, but alas, I have ninety days to cram in as much as I can. Next stop is Tours, where I’ve organised one day to tour the city, and Monday, I have booked a train ticket to visit Saumur, a town around 40 minutes train ride away.

Looking forward to it!

Posted by benjamin2981 08:20 Archived in France Tagged road_trip walking history driving orleans museum cathedral nightlife joan_of_arc airbnb chartres jeanne_darc Comments (0)

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