The chaos of leaving for a vacation

Couple, Sailing, DFDS

We are out of the office next week! Naturally we are heading out of Belgium in a situation like this, and for a long time we have been planning to spend this holiday in the National park of Ordesa, in the Spanish Pyrenees. We were hoping to start of from Gavarnie, climb over the border from the Col des Tentes and return via Monte Perdido and Breche de Roland.

Normally our holiday planning is far less detailed. Good if we know the country where we’ll eventually go to. This time we have a great plan but the nature is getting on our way. The Pyrenees are soaked in storms for the best part of next week, not really an ideal situation to go out there trekking and camping.

Regardless of the weather, we finished packing yesterday. We are fully prepared to climb some hills, somewhere. We just need to find the ones that are relatively dry for the time being. To help this out, Waffle packed along about 5 kilos of maps, for France, UK, Spain and Luxembourg. Other areas we’ll buy on the go, I guess.

I love this situation! This is an excellent lesson to let go of control and just accept the circumstances. We have no clue where we are going to sleep tonight. Seriously no clue. Hopefully not at home though…

I hope we’ll manage to make the best out of this holiday. You’ll find out soon enough. In the meanwhile, wish us luck. If you happen to sit on a dry mountain somewhere within 12 hours of Brussels; give us a shout!

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Mallorca – Things can go wrong

Waffle had been doing his magic again. We had a long weekend approaching and he had been hunting down cheap flights again. One afternoon I just got a message in Facebook “You are going to Mallorca”. I took it as I always take it: Yes! Travelling again. But Mallorca? But there are some mountains there, next to the touristic sandy beaches. Waffle had lost an opportunity to explore them properly on his earlier trip, so now would be time to climb them.

Our flight was early on Friday morning. Thursday evening was understandably full of packing. I had lost my pants and just about half of my other important stuff. So I packed way too much of hiking food to compensate.

This holiday started with quite some small hiccups. We had thought to park our car at Waffles work, which is close by the airport. We arrived at the gate, Waffles key card beeped, and the gate decided not to open. We beeped again but the gate was stubbornly staying shut. We had to swallow our defeat and take the car to the rather pricey airport parking and lose 70 euros for it, almost as much as the flights…

The plane took off as planned and rather soon we found ourselves in a much warmer climate on an island in the turquoise Mediterranean. During the flight I had noticed that in the haste of searching for pants I had forgotten my knee supports. Hiking might turn into a painful misery.

There was yet another hurdle for us to tackle: renting a car, Spanish style. The first challenge was to find the rental office. Our voucher told us to go to an old arrivals (Arribals) desk to find a person from the company, since it was November, off season you know. There was no-one there. The car rental person next to our desk was not responding any more than shaking a shoulder.

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We admit it, English is sometimes hard.

After some phone calls, running and a shuttle bus later we found the office and got our car without too much extra costs. Other customers were vigorously calling all over the place for unknown reasons. To say one word of advice: maybe think twice before renting anything from Click Rent on Mallorca.

Well, we were off, about two hours after landing on a miserably coughing car, bought some essential food items and took a heading towards the Monastery of Lluc, somewhere in the mountains.

Our Rother guide had a nice walk for us, a trail taking us around the Puig Roig. We found a picnic area to park our car at, and hiked off to sheep paddock. We were happily bouncing along, holding hands and singing happy songs, looking at the peaks in front of us, blissfully unaware that our hike would soon end.

The trail took us to a road and the road took an angry lady to us. She was angry because we were trespassing. Apparently the mountain was accessible only on Sundays, since it was on their land. She shoveled us into her car, told interesting stories about the stone walls on their property and showed us a vulture who lives on their land.

It was a pity that such a beautiful mountain was out of our reach and the day was getting short to get any other nice hike done. We ended up driving to the Cap Formentor and doing a small hike there. It ended up being surprisingly beautiful with the light of the setting sun and views over the whole island.

We returned to a picnic in sunset and found a perfect, soft and flat camping spot a little further in the forest. We went to bed at reasonable hour (8 pm) and slept like babies. We were woken up by a bunch of Spanish men hanging from a tree. Yes. Spanish men hanging from a tree.Apparently it was the collective morning of outside breakfasts that day. There were a lot of people gathering to the parking.

We finished our breakfast, packed our stuff and were ready for the hike of the day, being up and down Puig Massanella. But then we realized why all the Spanish people were there. To begin with, someone had spread a red tape across the exit. As we were planning whether or not we should drive through it anyways, ea started hearing and engine roar, rapidly getting closer. Soon a rally car passed by with massive speed, cutting a corner with tight drive line. It was followed soon by another, and another. We would not make a chance with our tired ans shaky Hyundai. We were stuck.

Luckily the planned hike was not that far away, so we decided to walk to the start point at the monastery of Lluc. It was about 2 kilometers of walking on a mild trail before we arrived to Lluc. At the gates of the botanical garden of the monastery we met a young man who appeared to be a little lost. He spotted our map and asked immediately if he could join our quest of conquering the Massanella. Sure he could. Soon we found out that he was also a Finn, living in Switzerland, small world.

Off we went, through a forest of ancient looking olive trees and cork oaks and old coal burning pits. We talked about world politics, Trump being elected and so forth. Turned out our Finnish addition was quite a traveler himself too, so we had a nice hike up the hillside.

We got over the treeline and were met with quite spectacular views over the rugged coastline. At that point we took a shortcut, across a small peak, to get closer to Massanella. There we got lost. Where we should have walked straight on, we turned, and ended up climbing Puig Galileu, instead of Massanella.

That was only slightly disappointing, we still tried to get to the Massanella as well, but ran out of time. The Finnish addition had to catch a bus and we too needed to be back at the car before dark.

The rally was gone, and people were allowed to drive off. We made camp on the same place again, since there was no need to move anywhere else. We just decided to get up early the next morning, not to get stuck again.

On Sunday we didn’t really do any hiking, we took the car and drove around the island in search of hidden beaches. We headed east first and from there planned to head for the southern tip and then back up on the western side of the island. The very first stop we made in Betlem payed off! It was a short stroll before we found a rocky down leading path to a small bay with a tiny sandy beach and crystal clear waters. It is covered by cliffs, and the beach can’t be seen until you really walk down to it.

Some skinny dipping followed. The water was not too chill and even the sun popped out of the clouds every now and then to keep us company.

The next beach we headed for was right at the southernmost tip of Mallorca. Waffle had been there before, and knew it would be calm out there, although the location is nowadays already all over the internet. We found a completely empty beach and went for another skinny dip.

That was a good spot to stop our road trip. We headed to Sóller. A nice looking town where apparently also were locals living. There we had our hotel. For the evening we went to Palma to see one of my old friends who happens to be living in there. We hadn’t seen each other for 7 or 8 years, but not much had changed, which was nice to notice. We went to eat into a small restaurant called Cuco, where Waffle found an excellent cannelloni with pears and Gorgonzola. I was jealously looking at his plate the whole evening.

We drove back to Soller via the col, instead of taking a tunnel that goes under a steep hill. After some tight serpentine corners the rood gets high enough to offer an amazing view over to Palma and the Mediterranean, during the night it is a small bond of lights. There we said our goodbyes to our mini holiday.

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A daycare for men, only costing the price of beer he drinks. They have never lost a soul so far. 

Monday morning came early and we pushed through the sluggish morning rush hour back to the airport, dropped the car and left. In terms of wild nature Mallorca didn’t offer us much, but still there are some nice shots caught to our camera. Thanks to off season the trails we hiked were calm. I think we both left the island rather contempt. Now we are just looking forward to a nice white Christmas in Finland!

 

 

 

Christmas Road Trip 2015 – Part Two

Pyrenees, Mountains, Hiking

On the morning of the last day of the year we woke up in a hotel, somewhere north of Ax-les-Thermes, attacked a rather sad little breakfast and headed outside. In the evening we should arrive to Barcelona, but since it was a drive of only a couple of hours, we were in no hurry.

There was a nice small walk in a valley between high peaks, a couple of small lakes and a tiny mountain village. I was feeling just about as sporty as a wet mitten, so I was more than happy to have a mild walk, with next to no climbing to do.

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Map reading. Important. 
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You can see the amount of energy I had for this walk…
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The beauty in the details. 

The valley dived in between the peaks and ridges of Carlit and Font-Frède, offering a very nice view. The trail brought us quickly a bit higher, offering a nice view over the frozen lakes. The climbing ended at a waterfall, alongside which we started our descent towards the lakes. The snow in the valley bottom was formed with uncommonly large crystals. They give a beautiful shimmer and chink when you walk through them.

Before heading down south to Barcelona, we stopped for lunch in a very characteristic old village. The houses made of nature stone, and faint smell of smoke from the heating of houses, is somehow very warming and welcoming combination.

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Lunch down and the navigator set to avoid toll roads, we headed up to a mountain pass, that takes you through the Pyrenees from France to Spain. That road, N-260, climbs up almost to 1800 meters, and the view is amazing at times! The serpentine corners are sometimes also slightly scary to drive through.

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We reached the outskirts of Barcelona at 6 in the evening. Our humble hostel was in Badalona, a short metro ride away from Barca. Before heading out for the fireworks we cooked the most romantic new years dinner I have ever had. Not really. Pasta in a bottle sauce, heated on campingaz, sided by a bottle of Mumm was rather peculiar dinner for the moment. Not that Waffle or I ever cared too much about etiquette.

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The more unconventional dinner. Never forget the champagne!

We headed for the metro. Equipped with our camera and a tripod for it. We stopped to take a picture from a land mark, so that we would find back to the hostel a little bit easier. A pair of police officers saw that, stopped and started questioning us on what we were taking pictures of and why, where were we heading and all that. The encounter resulted us taking the camera and the tripod back to our room and going out to Barcelona with no decent equipment for photos. Oh poop.

The fireworks ended up being quite a disappointment too. We were packed in a huge crowd to the central square, looking at the show from the city palace. The fireworks started at midnight, as is proper, and ended 7 minutes later. Many stayed at their places, waiting for something more, but nothing came. Odd and disappointing, when you had expected something spectacular. Even the party across the city seemed to have troubles getting started.

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That guy stayed out late?

Well, never the less. We still had the next day to explore the city. We had had next to no time at all to check what to see in Barcelona, so we wandered around rather blindly. First we ended up in the harbor, from which we headed for the gardens of the Palau Nacional, the fountains of which are rather impressive.

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Palau Nacional
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Sagrada Familia

We carried on to the Sagrada Familia church, having lunch in between and enjoying the warmish winter day. The monuments are impressive in Barcelona. It was a pity though, that everything was closed, thanks to the New Years day. So no visits to museums or anything like that. We noticed also, that city like Barcelona is impossible to visit properly without planning, especially if you only have a few hours to explore the streets.

Our holiday was closing to its end. We picked up our car again and headed back to France. Our next stop was in the Auvergne region, somewhere in the middle of France. We left around 4, to make sure we had time to spare. Or so we thought.

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Average speed, maybe 1.2 km per hour

The French police had set up a border control thanks to the terrorist threat situation still going on in Europe. They had cut off the whole traffic on the border at the Mediterranean. We managed to avoid it almost all the way, by using a smaller department road, until out navigator betrayed us. The last 6 kilometers from Spain to France took us 4 long hours, in a stand still traffic. To our motel, close by Clermont-Ferrand, we arrived in the early morning hours, tired as hell.

In the process we had climbed to the Central Massif of France, where we were planning on walking our last hike for the holiday. The area is known for its old volcanoes and we wanted to climb on top of one of them. See the craters and all that. We just needed to find a map.

France, when it comes to hiking and maps, is a paradise. You do not need a specialized shop selling them. You go find a village, and a little bit larger Bar Tabac. They often sell perfectly good hiking maps. We did exactly that, went to a tiny village, asked from people, whether they know where the closest map selling instance might be. And got our map in less than half an hour. On a holiday. The people in those villages are just golden! Friendly and helpful to the extreme. And the villages themselves! So pretty! And the bakeries are almost impossible to pass by, the smell just forces your nose to go in. You just got to love France.

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These small villages. I like them so much better than large cities!
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A demon, fighting off other demons. 

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We picked our volcano from the map, and headed towards Puy de Domê. The weather was not on our side; We got slapped to the face by bucket full of water. Puy de Domê was in the clouds, so we decided to head for its little sister; Puy Pariou.

It was only a short hike up. The plateau of Massif Central is already at 1000 meters, so climbing a peak to 1200 is easy a task. We strolled through a beautiful forest, with dark greens and reddish browns surrounding the trail. At the peak we got a nice overview of the landscape over the volcanoes. They are sitting really side by side, looking prehistoric. It was not hard to imagine how they looked like back in the active days. The moist was rising from their slopes, so that the whole area looked to be steaming.

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All these peaks are volcanoes!

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Instant winter on a volcano

After dipping down to the bottom of the crater, we started to make our way back to the other side of the mountain. At  that moment we got hit by a snow storm. The wind picked up, trying to push us off from the craters edge, coating us with snow. The wind speed must have been close to 80 kilometers per hour!

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Back down at the car we were absolutely soaked and chilled, but happy about the experience. Those volcanoes, dead as they are, still have quite a character.

That day we needed to drive all the way home, 800 kilometers or so. Before hitting the highway, we searched a store selling some local cheeses and surprisingly, also wine! Packed with goodies we took off, first towards Paris and then to the east, to home, slicing through the darkness of winter.

We were slowly getting cramped onto the road with all the other people, returning home from the holidays. Soon we were closing up to the Paris ring way. Closest I have ever been to Paris, I got even a nice view on the Eiffel tower! On the ring way, I think, the essence of being a French, is strong. There can be chaos, a lot of it. But it is mostly very controlled chaos. There, the traffic is directed in a very complicated way, with highways merging and separating, crossing and zigzagging. But it all works. As long as you know where you are going. Wonderful. I am happy Waffle did the driving though.

Early on Sunday morning, after 3500 kilometers, we finally reached Rupelmonde. Ready to dive into bed and say good bye to our road trip. Taking in the challenges of the new year. As far as travel plans go, we do not have them yet, but I’m sure we are able to come up with something, pretty soon.

Enjoy 2016, make the best out of it, my dear people. See you soon!

And oh, oh! The pictures, they are here!