Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Finishing touches

[pictures not sorted yet!]

written 23rd february

The long drive north on sunday was largely uneventful.  We started looking for somewhere to stop just south of Tarragona and rounded a corner to come to the largest polymer/chemical factories I have seen.  All strange shaped vats, curly pipes and enormous chimneys.  With the swirling steam sodium-lit in the dark, it was a true modern day mouth of hell...  and the nearby beach resorts were not much better.

The next morning, keen to circumnavigate Barcelona - we have been before and whilst we had a lovely time and would recommend it to anyone as a hotel-based city mini break (we stayed in lovely B&B and also now know people who run a nice hostal if anyone's interested in going!), we have seen everything and don't want the worry of trying to find somewhere to park in a city unfortunately renowned for its pickpockets and other low level crime - we set off for the monastery of Monserrat.

50-odd miles north west of Barcelona, the most unlikely mountain rises almost in isolation from the surrounding countryside - a bit Gibraltar like to be honest.  Known as the Serrated Mountain (mon-serrat), from a distance, its jagged peaks look like the jaw bone of a long buried dinosaur.  Will said it looks like white noise on an oscilloscope then kindly dumbed it down to "the edge of a broken cracker".  you get the idea :)

Passing under the cable car and over the rack railway, we could see it perched high above us as we took the windy, cliff-edge road up to the top.  We were a bit surprised by the €5 parking charge but having got that far, it seemed a shame to turn back now, and once in, it was clear that these particular monks are fully paid up initiates in both spiritual and material devotion and are keen to show their full appreciation to their God for the glorious natural bounty which he has seen fit to bestow on their order by ensuring that it is utilised to the max for filling the holy coffers - but it is an awesome setting and it was very nicely done :)

 Fortunately we arrived just in time to walk past the cafe, the restaurant, the sandwhich bar, the supermarket, the gift shop, the stalls selling hand-made produce, the museum, the audio-visiual experience and the post office(!!), to the tourist office, where we found we were just in time for the famous  boys choir performance in the basilica (daily 1pm) so we duly went.  And it was fabulous!

 The basilica is one of the most impressive churches we have been in - sorry, Bill, might even beat Burgos in fabulousness if not in scale!) - although it did remind me somewhat of hogwarts hall, especially when all the boys filed in - just white cassocks instead of black wizards cloaks... ;)

The singing was beautiful and afterwards we dutifully pilgrimaged upstairs to touch the hand of the black virgin - which is apparently what people do.  This is a stop on the pilgrimage to Santiago - I would not be happy if I got this far, with hundreds of kms still to go, and found I had to climb this mountain though!!

 The museum and audio visiual experience had further entrance charges, as did the two further funiculars to the very top - don't miss a trick these monks! - and the cloud was coming in so we decided against a walk and headed on back down.  Very, very glad we went though!

Sights now set on Tosse de Mar - described by the lonely planet as the first pretty beach north of Barcelona! - on a route which took us past what can only be described as 'ladies of the night' in full sunshine, in the middle of no where, by the side of major roads.  very bizarre!  Unfortunately I was too slow with the camera for the best one to you will have to use your imagination...

 ...a voluptuous but somewhat worn looking madam, sat on a garden chair, in a layby, fag in one hand, pallid thighs spilling out between black thigh high boots and black leather micro skirt, ample cleavage overflowing the tight black top, red lipsticked sulky pout, bored expression.  you get the idea... :)

Tosse de Mar was indeed pretty

and the coast road on was indeed spectacular as promised. 

As dusk fell, we headed on north, ending up in picturesque sounding Roses.

With the sun shining this morning, we set of on a final cardinal point quest, and finished our Spanish experience at Cabo de Creus, the easternmost point in Spain. 

The cliff top coffee

and edge of the world footpath rock scramble were pretty much perfect. 

So, sights set firmly north and france-wards - stopping only to squeeze the last drops of cheap(ish) spanish petrol in - it has been getting steadily more expensive as we have come north and our rapid flight to the border has cost us €120 in the last 3 days!!!  but worth every penny for the progress made!

And we wiggled up the coast road, over the border, and down the other side into france.  Where we hit petrol reality with a bump!

It immediately looked different - and somehow french! sudden nearly uncontrollable urge for moules frites... - and we stopped in carrefour for croissants and free Mc D's wifi.  We are heading north through AOC Cotes de Rousillion wine country, through mountains and gorges towards Carcassonne, the sun is shining, windows down, t-shirts only, I can understand people, there are petrol stations all over the place advertising GPL - vive la difference!

Vraiment, la vie est belle!

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