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Traveldiary chapter 4 [November 2000 - April 2001]
(Late Autumn & Spring in France, Winter in Spain)


Switzerland

France

Spain
Top

Across France, along the Spanish North-coast to Santiago de Compostella, Southwards to Cadiz, wintering in the naturist resort Costa Natura, through the interior of Spain and France, back to Switzerland

After shortly visiting our folks in Switzerland in November 2000, we've continued our travels slowly towards southern Spain again. As we decided to take a closer view to the many natural beauties of Scandinavia during the coming summer and automn, we needed a place as warm as possible within Europe to spend the winter before. So, we thought of the holiday village Costa Natura, where we've passed already 3 pleasant months one year ago.

In the middle of November we packed our things again and just as it began snowing, we were ready to leave towards France.
On the beginning, it was still quite cold, but at least we could escape the snow. Crossing over pretty Jura hills, we came to lower areas but found giant plains of flooded land where the rivers of Doubs and Saone meet. The flooding started something like 4 weeks ago, but couldn't disapear before more rain set in.
On our way through France we visited quite a few charming towns and villages. Some were built of yellow sandstone, others were made of ageold timber, bending to hold back the thick walls.
Trough some rain, we reached the nice town of Montluçon, a medieval walled city in which you can almost feel the history still alive around you.
Another particularly nice village was by the funny name of 'la roque de Gageac' which was literally squeezed underneath a big rock along the riverbed.
Then we reached the Atlantic coast of the basque country with it's (french) capital Bayonne. But also neighbouring Biarritz is very charming and it's coast is not only touristy, it also looks a bit like a part of the 'great ocean road' down under.

The style of basque houses is very special and looks still the same all over the area into the spanish part to Bilbao. Here we visited the newly opened Guggenheim-Museum of which the building itself is even more exciting than the art exhibited. The form of the outside was covered with Titan which gave it a shiny look. The inside bears forms of a ship with lots of wave-shaped bendings. Most of the exhibits are so perfectly integrated, one thinks they are part of the room. We enjoyed the special guided tour in English given only to this small touristgroup of 2 roving spirits.
Our stop in Castro Urdiales, a small fishing town, was already very exciting. The people were all out in the Streets as it was the weekend, and we didn't go for dinner before 10 p.m. which is still pretty early for spanish standard. The waves outside the port were banned by hughe stones, however, caused by the tidal movement, they still press through the underground and splashed out of some tiny wholes like powerful geysirs.
Next, we drove along the northern coast and found some very pretty villages that looked like they were glued onto the oceanside cliffs. Very steep and narrow roads lead from the top of the houses down to the shore.
Soon we passed quite a few ugly town which are heavy industrial developments with the unavoidable skyskrapper dotted appartment suburbs which didn't look more appealing at all.
In contrast, we came towards the high mountains called 'picos de europa' that were already snowcovered. Just as the narrow mountain valley became more open, we encountered a very strong wind, which was unusual warm and reminded us to the 'Föhn' in the Swiss Alps. Lot's of branches were blown down and when we came to the first villages, we saw that the temperature had risen from 12ºC to 30ºC in just a few hours. The storm led to some heavy rain that night and the next morning, those heavenly temperatures were back down to normal again.
Now we continued along some small coastal drives which led us out to various lighthouses, situated on impressive cliffs. The best of them, Cabo Ortegal was situated on Spains northwestern tip. As a heavy cloud approached and quickly darkened the sunny sky, we were fascinated by the strong waves that were formed exactly beneath it. After enjoying the rainbow, we quickly run back to the car.

Since France, we were informed by (very) frequent signs on the roadside, even on highways, that we were following the old pilgrims way 'camino de Santiago'. Now we reached Santiago de Compostela, which to us nonbelievers, hasn't been the highlight of the trip.
Caused by heavy rain that pours down on the whole area almost year around, it was no wonder that almost all the facades, even the famous' churches one, has been covered by green moss. But the lush meadows all around this hilly country of Galicia are in stark contrast to the dry south.
Now we continued our way south along the portugese border which led over quite a few pass-roads and we almost hit the snow again. A real highlight was the medieval city of Salamanca with its impressive 'plaza mayor'. And even better, the best and the cheapest rooms are located, as always in Spain, right there, in the center of town. Again, it was the weekend, so crowds of people flocked into the center for a walk, feed and some drinks and dancing until early next morning. Happy atmosphere all around and one just has to let them push you down the road.
In Cadiz we hit the atlantic coast (South of Portugal) and we walked along the narrow lines which are still crossed by trucks in case they can proceed if no cars are parked. Otherwise, they call out or use the horn to find the driver. This city has strong signs of its past arabic influence with mosques that are turned into churches.
Following the southern tip, we stopped in the town of Tarifa, Spain's surfer's paradise. As the mediterranean sea meets the atlantic ocean here, there is a constant wind. Thousands of windgenerators take advantage of this and convert it into electricity.

Arriving at Costa Natura, the holiday village where we have been already last year, we were given a very nice appartment (105) which was even better located than the previous one. It was full of mirrors, even on the ceiling and we've been having a great time once more!!! With the other guests we had a lot of fun and we liked making new friends and meeting many of those from last year again. We were constantly receiving and giving invitations, after enjoying the day in the sun and the mainly mild climate. By discussing, we got the impression, that people who come to naturist places, seem to be a bit more open minded than the average lot of folks...
As we were of course very relaxed after our 3 months in Costa Natura, we took it easy and left only after 5 p.m. on the day of departure, March 22. The weather had become quite hot already and we enjoyed a 'last time' in the pool, 'last time' in the jacuzzy, 'last time' playing badminton etc.

Our first night was in Granada, which we knew from our last year's visit to the Alhambra. This time we now only visited the arab quarters with their beautifully decorated restaurants and tea-houses.
The next day, we drove up through the sometimes pretty narrow gorges of the sierra nevada. The scenery changed later on from the vast oliv-plantations to the first watered fields with rolling hills. On some of them, we saw old but nicely restored windmills, a delight for every traveller. The next highlight was our destination, CUENCA. This is a most beautiful medieval little town, sitting on top of a triangle-shaped rock, looking down on the two rivers melting together on its foot. To get up to the center, the historic 'plaza major' was quite an exert, leading up many steep stairs. The view, however, was rewarding as was the exploring of the narrow little lanes between the old houses.
The next day, we visited a nature reserve in which many more of the stoneformations, typical for the area could be seen. Arches and washed out wholes were as common as single rocks standing like pillars with their top being larger than its bottompart. Also, on one part it looked as if the water had washed out paralel lanes, as in a giant potato field, only again, the toppart being wider than its foot. More and differently shaped and coloured rockformations could be seen all along our way when we left the 'Serrania de Cuenca' and we stopped many times to adore the nature. As spring was already over in Spain, we hoped the snow would be gone in the Pyrenees and so we took the road through the mountains. This was fine, it only got a bit colder again up there, but the passroads didn't lead any higher than 1400 m. The villages up there are either sleepy little farmer's places or ski-resorts which resemble every alpin place much more. Nothing left of what we got to know as spanish type houses.

Down on the other side, we reached Carcassonne in France. This fairytale city deserved some exploration as well. The old part of the town is surrounded by 2 heavy citywalls which are adorned by over 70 towers. This is today's tourist terrain and during the day, it was pretty crowded and constantly photographed. In the evening, however, it looked deserted and empty but still offered many good restaurants to savour the french kitchen.
Our next destination, in the center of France, was 'Le Puy en Velay'. This town used to be inhabited by a very catholic population and so they built on each of the 3 rocks that are throning around town, a religious statue or chapel. The houses in the old part beneath, are nicely painted and decorated and it was lovely to wander around it. Only towards the end of our trip, shortly before Annecy, we came back to the motorway. Before we've found lonely little roads with much more to see than only exhausts of those horrible trucks.

Now, April 2001, back in Switzerland, in Küssnacht am Rigi, we spent 10 nice days with our friend Brigitte who let us use her kitchen, bed, washing-machine and computer - what could we ask for more ?


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