TechnomadicsVagabonding Europe

Pyrenees, Spain

We are going to Barcelona!

We have a friend, Hayden, who lives there — we went to uni together, and he’s since moved over here to do a maths PhD (for some ungodly reason) — and we’re also meeting up with Sebastian, the friend with whom I’m doing Audiobus, who’s flying over for the week and staying with us.

We do a bit of reading up on Barcelona in advance, the city building in our minds into some wild lawless bandit territory, with pickpockets, muggers and corrupt cops on every street corner, and bandits patrolling the roads, preying upon visitors. Thanks for that, The Interwebs, we feel much better now. We decide to skip the AP-7, the main motorway leading into Barcelona and apparently notorious for gangs who hurl stuff at the backs of vehicles and then feign helpfulness, indicating something “fell off” the back, then robbing at knife-point those who pull over to check. It’s probably not that bad but, eh, better safe than sorry.

That gives us the idea of driving directly south, right over the Pyrenees, and we immediately love the idea. It’s a fair bit longer, but it’ll be lovely to drive through the mountains.

MG 4836

So that’s what we do, following little windy roads through one lovely little village after the next, climbing up into the mist. It’s kinda like Ireland meets the Austrian Alps. It’s high-concentration driving and slow going, but the rewards are great. The mountains around us grow, and become covered with truly dense bright green feathery woods. We’ve never seen so many trees, all packed in. It’s incredible.

Every now and then the road runs along the top of a mountain and we have stunning views over the surrounding mountains and crags, sometimes overlooking towns and villages nestled in hollows. I wanna stop often to gape, but the road doesn’t have anywhere to pull over, so onwards we go.

We enter the cloud layer and visibility falls right off — we’re winding through little tunnels of greenery, the rest of the world just a white blur. Re-emerging later, we find ourselves in a canyon following a turquoise-coloured river that tumbles along over a rocky bed.

MG 4841

MG 4847

Then, we find ourselves in alpine territory, low scraggly shrubs and grass, steep hillsides, scarred with rockslides that threaten the few trees that cling on. There’s pockets of snow up above, and — we look closer — it’s actually sleeting, ice crystals melting on the windscreen as soon as they land. Now we’re really put in mind of the Austrian Alps — there are even the same little rivulets that cross the landscape. We’re switchbacking up the side of a mountain, following signs to Andorra (although that’s not our destination), the roadside lined with tall white posts like a slalom course.

Portè-Puymorens

Then, we’re winding back down again, approaching a little village from above, and after spotting a large expanse of gravel by the side of the road on the edge of the village, decide to call it a day. Katherine makes us soup — it’s been a while, but it feels right in this wintery atmosphere! — and we watch as it starts to actually snow for real. We find this exceedingly weird, and brilliant — the hillsides around us start to whiten, along with the roofs of the houses. It feels a bit like we’ve travelled back in time, to when it was snowing in Alet!

MG 4879MG 4884

We climb up into bed and huddle, cosy, under the blankets as the snow falls silently around us, watching the fantastic and poignant film “Dancer in the Dark” on my laptop (now, Katherine wants to find everything Björk’s ever done).

It’s still snowing when we wake up and we both peer out the window, slightly anxiously, but relax when we see that the road is still completely clear. We hold the curtain up for a while and watch perfectly-shaped snowflakes hit the windscreen.

It’s a struggle to leave the warm, but we eventually manage it and put on the heater as we gingerly don chilled clothing. Then, weighed down by bellies full of porridge, we’re off again. Before I know it, both my sat nav system and Katherine simultaneously cry “Spain!”, and we’re in a whole new country.

I fill up with diesel in the town of Puigcerdà (“Ola!“), before we find ourselves driving along a flat expanse of green fields with yellow patches (canola?), and surrounded by distant blue, white-capped mountains. Our route takes us up the side of a mountain again, and we’re on another little winding road — the N-152 — that clings to the mountain, a steep drop off into a distant valley on one side.

N-152

N-152

We climb again, bit by bit, altitude signs marking 1500m, then 1600m, and suddenly we’re at the snow level again, driving through a Narnia-esque landscape — ranks upon ranks of dark pine trees accented with blinding white snow, tumbling off branches in flurries every now and then. It’s just stunningly beautiful.

Gradually, the pines give way to feathery green, and we descend once more, passing through a few towns, then finding ourselves on a four-lane road. The mountains become craggy hills, which grow ever-smaller, and then we’re amongst suburbs and factories.

An hour or so of motorway-hopping and roundabouts, and we’re driving along the coast to the north of Barcelona, all depressing and obnoxiously-designed high-rises (“Who goes “Yep, that apartment block mockup with the bright red and blue trim looks good. Send the designers home — lets build it”?”), but are a bit relieved when the high-rises recede somewhat as we arrive at the campsite we had chosen.

It’s built around a steep hill, so there are lots of terraced spots, each with a view out over the sea, and we’re surrounded by beautiful colourful eucalyptus trees that smell like Australia to me, when it rains.

So, here we are.

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6 Responses to Over the Mountains: The Road to Barcelona

  1. Brian Robson says:

    Loving your blog, guys – it’s giving me seriously itchy feet, and I’m not sure the paltry two weeks of camper-vanning we’ve got planned this summer will be enough to satisfy me…

    We were similarly scared by the guide books about Barcelona when we visited (by train) a couple of years ago, but as long as you keep your wits about you as you would in London or any other city you’ll be fine. We were – ironically, the only bag snatch we saw that holiday was in supposedly classier and safer Madrid. Barcelona was great, and would have been even better if we could have avoided the throngs of tourists!

    Keep up the blogs :)

  2. Carlene says:

    I agree with Brian; I also love the blog and was sad at the gap between posts (and a little worried, as well). Glad to hear you’ve been en route to a new adventure!

  3. Bryce says:

    Great blog. I reckon you have travelled through one of the most beautiful areas in Europe, the Pyrenees, I love them. Keep up the writing and all the best with your new project.

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