France 2018, Anjou (Day 11)

Malicorne-sur-Sarthe – La Suze-sur Sarthe

Sunday, 29.07.2018

20 km and 3 locks

All in all I have not got much to show for today’s post.  Being Sunday this part of France is largely shut down. So we have a rather lazy morning at the beautiful mooring at Malincorne.

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Our only duty today is to find a mooring near a train station in order to get into Le Mans tomorrow. Our first port of call is Noyen-sur-Sarthe. The harbour master there is rather unfriendly and wants to get rid of us,  as he is expecting a whole fleet of boats arriving.  Mind: We haven’t seen a single boat moving in the two days we are on the river so far. At least he allows us to stay for two hours. Walking into Noyen, we only need a fraction of that time, as there is absolutely nothing of note to do or see.

So we pull pins and continue further upstream. Past some very nice social housing that is abundant along the Sarthe.

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In La Suze-sur-Sarthe, there is no harbour master. And no boats to speak of.
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We check out the train station and book tickets using trainline.eu . That is a very handy app. Living in Ireland we cannot, for what logic ever,  book online tickets on the SNCF website, but only can wait for paper tickets to be send by post. Not very helpful.

That all sorted we settle in for the night and the excitement of Le Mans tomorrow.

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France 2018, Anjou (Day 10)

Solesmes – Malicorne-sur-Sarthe

Saturday, 28.07.2018

22 km and 5 locks

A morning stroll over the bridge and through Solesmes produces fresh bread for breakfast.
Shortly after setting off, the locky at ecluse Juigné presents the disappointment of the day. Ecluse 4 Spay is en panne. How long? Nobody knows.
Not an immediate problem, but one in two or three days. Actually it is absolutely mission critical.
What this mission is, you might ask? You remember me going on about the lad’s unhealthy fixation on cars? And what at the other side of Spay? Le Mans! That’s where we have to go. 24 hours, track, museum, the whole shebang.

But behold. One of the good things about the Sarthe is, that there is a railway line that follows the river. So most towns sport a train station. We will take the train into La Mans. Panic avoided.
The captain feeling smug:

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And the lad is delighted.
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Other than that, the plan is to stop at villages and towns we missed out on our last trip along the Sarthe. First port of call is Avoise.
There is not too much to see in this little hamlet. Some quaint remains of an old saw mill.

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And a nice walk along the river and some stately homes.
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Next stop is Parcé-sur-Sarthe. Actually a nice village perched high over the river. Somehow I miss to take some proper pictures.
Narrow lanes.
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Nice riverside walks.
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We have the harbour all on our own. We haven’t seen a boat moving yet. And it should stay like this for a few days.

 

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For the evening I have booked a table at La Petite Auberge in Malincorne. It got a lot of praise in the guide as well as on the web. But unfortunately we are rather disappointed.  It all looked and tasted like convenience food.
But the setting is nice. And a bottle of nice red back on board calms the grudge.

France 2018, Anjou (Day 8+9)

La Guingueta d’Aneau- Les Herbiers – Sablè-sur-Sarthe – Solesmes

Thursday + Friday, 26. + 27.07.2018

loads of km, then 7km and 2 locks

We break camp before dusk. With the sun rising in our back we climb the C-28 towards Puerto de la Bonaigua. An amazing mountain pass. But one would want something like an Alpha Spider to unlock its full potential. Once over the saddle we drop down to the Val d’Aran. Through Viella onto the N-230 we soon meet the Garonne and are back in France.

Then there are another 700 km in raging heat on the Motorway to Les Herbiers, were we already stayed on the way down to Spain.
This trip would have been totally uneventful, would we not have an encounter with a French compact car. The Landys exhaust gets slightly bent, the Peugeot fares much worse. Or as the Gendarm puts it: French car 0 – British car 1.

When we arrive at the campsite and have set up the tent, we all really feel the strain the last week has put on us. All this off-roading and driving has been really great. The most intense trip ever. But hard, hard work. And we are all really looking forward to slow down on the boat.

Up next morning and only a short drive (160km) to Sable, where to boat is still safely parked.  We hitch up the trailer and drive the rig to Port the Juignè. There is a good slipway on the right bank of the river just upstream of the bridge.  It is very usable, but the turn from the main road to the access road is very tight. We got the trailer wedged, but no damage done. Just make sure to take a very wide turn.

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We take the Landy to the SuperU at Sable in order to stock up the larder and fill up the petrol tanks. Once ARGO is oiled and watered up, the IO and the lad are handed over full responsibility. Their task is to navigate the boat to Sable, while I will bring car and trailer back to the campsite, to be parked there for another three weeks.

From the campsite I walk down to the marina in the town centre. I am pleasantly surprised that the lad and the IO have actually gone the right direction.

We liked Sable a lot three years ago. But at the moment the whole market square is one big building site. Our favourite restaurant gone. The bridge right next to the harbour also gets an overhaul. All very noisy and not pleasant.

So I hop on board, we turn round, upstream again. Once we left town, we all go for a swim. Oh, was I looking forward to this.

The lad meanwhile tests our new tender.

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We find a quiet place right opposite the huge abbey in Solesmes. I still think its daunting and ugly. But we are back on the water, in the shade.

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BBQ, red wine, fresh bread. Live is good.

Spain 2018, Catalonia (Day 7)

La Guingueta d’Aneau, P28

Wednesday, 25.07.2018

loads of km

Today Paddy and his lad get on their long drive back home to Germany. We have one more day left and want to make the most out of it. Trouble is, that there are so many promising tracks. So much to do, so little time. We settle for the P28, a track along a mountain ridge almost 2400 meters above sea level.
We leave the L-510 at Alin and immediately start climbing. At the beginning the road winds through a dense pine forest and there is little to see.
Eventually we take a wrong turn, but at least this cul-de-sac gets us out of the forest and rewards with good views back down to Alin.

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And along the Vall Ferrera towards France.
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Back on the main track, back in the forest we cross plenty of streams and ancient bridges.
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Getting higher up and closer to the ridge, the forest recedes and the view widens.

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As I mentioned before: These mountains are not really solid.
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Plants take over the rock-falls in no time.

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You can see, where this is going….
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We pass a reflector antenna. We have encountered several of them in the last days. They are used to reflect mobile phone and internet signals between two points that don’t have a line of sight. I assume they are at least part of the reason while the tracks we are using are maintained.

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The highlight is the drive along the ridge.
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Stunning views at the spine of the Pyrenees.
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From here it is another hour or so downhill in 1st or 2nd gear, along an endless section of hairpin bends. We reach the Refugi Gall Fer, where the lad is looking forward to some ice cream.
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Further down into the valley, across more streams.
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And again stunning flowers.
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For the evening we return to the Tapas Bar in Espot. And have another lovely dinner there.
Landy content on the way:
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Before we return to boating tomorrow, what is the conclusion for this part of our trip?

It was the most exiting holiday ever.
It was the most trying holiday ever.

Let me qualify:
I really tried hard to put some of the impressions we had into the pictures, but I think I failed badly. The scenery around here is so beautiful, has got so many facets, is so devoid of people (in Aragon even more than in Catalonia), it has a quality of its own, which I did not believe would exist in Central or Western Europe.
We never went off-roading before, so there was the novelty of that. But more so it is a way of travel, that really is a voyage. It is hard work. As a driver you cannot go on autopilot like you would do on a trip down the motorway. You always need to be 100% focused. That would also be true for the co-pilot, alas… but I digress.
The point being: It is extremely intense, very rewarding, but also hard work.

Will we do it again?
Can’t wait!!!

Spain 2018, Catalonia (Day 6)

La Guingueta d’Aneau, P39

Tuesday, 24.07.2018

loads of km

We are all still a bit shattered from yesterdays struggles. Paddy and his lad want to give the off-roading a pass today.
The IO, the lad and myself decide, that we are here in order to go off-roading, so off-roading we will go, but we will take it a bit easier today.
We pay the Pirineus Parc Aventura a visit for some tree climbing and zip lining. All good fun, but rather expensive. After that a short swim in the lake to cool off.

We then proceed up the C-13 to Esterri d’Áneu. It seems to be a bit of a local centre in an area that consists mostly of small villages.  I desperately need sunglasses as I lost my old pair by leaving it on the Landy’s bonnet and then driving off. And also we can pretend to do a bit off sightseeing, if not to say culture..

Alas, there aren’t many sights to see. An old church.
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The Catholics round here still seem to be really serious about their sickening guilt trip.
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At least the lad is happy. He has found a shop that sells Hotwheel cars. Café solo and ice cream.
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But now it is time to get some gravel under the tires.
We take the C-28 to Baquèira. Baquèira is not much more then a huge ski station with several huge parking lots.
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Once we leave this behind, the scenery improves dramatically.
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Once we have reached the altiplano, the first part of the track is benign, wide and almost on the level.
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First through alpine pastures…
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… then through dense forests with loads of streams pouring down the mountainside.

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The track is so well maintained as it serves as access road to the church Mair de Diu Montgarri with the Refugio Amics de Montgarri right next to it.
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Once past this place the valley gets even more densely wooded and the track gets more washed out and uncomfortable to drive.  But the forest is most beautiful, sunlight seeping through the tree cover.
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Loads of streams and waterfalls.
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But the main attraction are the ant hills. They are huge, and there is one every 20 meters or so in any given direction.
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The lad is fascinated, but not completely sure, what to think about it.

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Eventually the forest retreads a bit and we can see the Riu Noguera Pallaresa, that we have been following all along.

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At Alos we reach tarmac again and stop for the Romanesque bridge.
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Paddy and his lad meanwhile have been to Espot and the nearby national park. On the way back they sussed out a brilliant little Tapas Bar in Espot. Paddy convinces us, that we should go there for dinner. And what a fantastic choice this proves to be. We gobble up all their Tapas, drink brilliant wine and are rewarded with the most friendly service.  We drive home well in the dark, hoping that the Guardia Civil is in bed already.
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Spain 2018, Catalonia (Day 5)

La Guingueta d’Aneau, P31 and P30

Monday, 23.07.2018

loads of km

The lad has been complaining over the last few years, that his parents are really boring, the holidays are really boring, that we always only go to boring France… While some of his mates fly to such exotic places like Mallorca.
After I had shown him some pictures of hotels built for the species-appropriate husbandry of mass tourists, he has calmed down on the subject a bit.
But this year we finally made it to a new country on his list, and with Andorra just two valleys away, it could be thrown in for free.
And also the smuggler’s path into Andorra is one of the absolute classic tracks in the Pyrenees. Little do we know yet, that this will be the make or break trip.

It all started very benign. First through a narrow gorge…
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… we reach the ancient Hamlet of Tor. It is a bit of a local tourist attraction. And although there are only a few houses one of them sports a bar. Cafe solo all round.

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Once past Tor, the road starts a serious climb with plenty of hair pin bents.
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Plenty of horses in a huge scenery.
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Through more badly washed out serpentines we reach the Port da Cabus at 2298m. The highest point so far. This is also the border to Andorra and we are immediately greeted by a wide tarmac road.
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This really is the only picture of Andorra I can present, as from here on things start going not quite as well. The plan, probably not the best plan, was to visit La Vella, the capital, biggest and almost only town of Andorra. But, sorry Andorrans, what a non place you guys have created. Its basically a motorway along the valley floor, lined with strip malls all along.
Somehow we have set our mind to go  shopping… Bad idea… cars and people everywhere… Paddy’s lad is really tired and gets cranky…we all get cranky… Three does not support Andorra, so no phone… Paddy decides to leg it and decides to go back along the main road… When I check on maps.me I am told that this will take four hours plus change… Not really an alternative.

We decide to try the northern half of the P30 past Os de Civis to get back to Spain. About 30 minutes in, we reach a handwritten sign saying that the Col Conflent is closed for road works…. Frustrated we turn round, back down into Andorra and out again, now on the southern leg of the P30 past Civis. Civis certainly would justify a stop. But it is getting late, we don’t know where Paddy is. Thus we press on.

Eventually we reach the col the Ares, at 1872 meters.

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Colvis back down in the valley.

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Amazing plant life.

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Further on we pass the Capel Santa Magdalena. Good job we had a little stop here. Very quirky place. Although there is probably more to it then we can only guess.

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Shrines for Dutch bikers in an out of the world chapel in Catalonia. Strange.

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From here we have to climb out of the valley again in order to reach the Col de So.
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Finally tarmac.
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All along that trip we had no phone reception, which generally is a good thing. But had also been out of radio range to Paddy. Only when we reached Tirvia, we got through to him.  He and his lad are already back at base. We stop at the little supermarket in Llavorsi and grab some food for dinner.
When we reach the camp site it is almost dark. Paddy’s lad is totally knackered and not very impressed by all this off-roading any more. And to be honest, we all have it a bit after today.

Spain 2018, Aragon, Catalonia (Day 4)

La Puebla de Roda to La Guingueta d’Aneau, P 18 and P3 7

Sunday, 22.07.2018

loads of km

Today we are going to relocate our base to La Guingueta d’Aneau. The goodbye is dragged out quite a bit, as the lad is digging in his heels leaving his new best mate. And also the shiny bikes they rent out at the campsite.
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The P18 connects the Isabena valley with the valley of the Riu Noguera Ribagorcana. The first half of the track is identical to the track P6 to Cajigar we did on our first day. The average speed was much higher as we got slightly braver, but also are aware of what to expect.
Once past Cajigar we immediately hit traffic.

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We are already on the altiplano. The landscape is more undulating than spectacularly mountainous. There is even a sizable amount of fields in the dolines of the karst.
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A while later we have an oncoming local. He thrashes his Jeep at some breakneck speed. Scary.
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Via a little detour we reach the abandoned hilltop village of Claraválls.

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Live must have been incredibly hard at the time. Hot and dry in the summer. Freezing cold in the winter. Sitting on a hilltop not even a reliable water source. The next village at least a day on foot.
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And here we finally see our first vultures.

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Back down in the valley of the Riu Noguera Ribagorcana a kilometre of Tarmac connects the P18 to the P37. The P37 will get us over the next mountain range an to the valley of the Riu Noguera Pallaresa.
Soon after leaving the main road we reach a dried up ford. Sure enough the lads find a puddle and create maximum mess with sticky orange mud.
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The riverbed is huge. And one can only imagine the amount of water this river transports in the winter.
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The landscape has also changed. The mountain side looks like a giant sand pit. Just that it isn’t. This is one thing that really fascinates me about the Pyrenees. Having spent some of my misspent youth in the Bavarian and Austrian alps, my notion of mountains is that of solidity. Granite and solid lime stone. But around here a lot of the mountains seem to be made up just by sand and gravel. All very fluid and different.
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But soon the road starts to climb.
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And the view widens…

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Please note, that the terrain still does not look very solid.

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This village is abandoned, but the fields still get farmed.
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Some sort of cave dwelling?
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Wide vistas…
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The roof rack of Paddy’s car invites the lads to mess.
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A bit later we hit the vulture jackpot.
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On the way down to the valley we pass a huge military area with barracks and all. Signs indicate that taking pictures is strictly forbidden. And in this special case I think that it might be wise obeying signage. Kinda scary place.
At the bottom we stop at the Embassament de Sant Antoni for a quick swim.

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Now we take the tarmac through Pobla de Segur, Sort and Llavorsi to the new camp. Arriving at Nou Camping in La Guingueta d’Àneu we immediately regret our choice. There is nothing really wrong with the place, but it is huge and very business-like. But anyway it will prove as a useful place for the next couple of days.