Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 7: Confranc to Jaca

Another gorgeous day to wake up to, clear blue sky. We awoke early had breakfast and were on the road by 7.30am. I was so happy as we were back on the mountainside. Alongside of us we had the river Aragón which we crossed a few times. The first 2k´s we followed a wooded riverside path and then the next 3k´s was tree lined rocky path sometimes earth and scree and then onto very large gravel, or you could say rock. On the side of us were scree slopes which looked quite scary as one could imagine that sometimes the scree comes tumbling down. On the other side of us was often a steep drop to the river Aragón. We then walked onto a flatter area of low wooded hills and fields with stone walls. We had sunshine the whole day and beautiful blue sky. It was very hot by midday and my arms got quite sunburnt, unfortunately put on sun block a bit late, know better for tomorrow. On the way to Jaca I had pinned my socks onto my backpack to dry and somewhere on the way I must have lost one so now I am minus a sock, which leaves me with one pair of socks, until I can find a place to buy another pair. Syl has kindly offered to lend me a pair of hers if I need them. When we reached Jaca we could not get into our accomodation as they only opened at 4.00pm and it was just before 3.00 so we left our backpacks at the door and went off in search of a resturant for a meal. We had a delicious salad and then went back to book in. We are so lucky to have free interent where we are staying and have been able to catch up on our writing for the blog.

Sil - A rocky road to Jaca
When we walked along the road today we realised that we hadn´t seen the main part of the town of Confranc Estacion. Sometimes you arrive at your destination, shower, wash clothes, find a place to eat or shop for food and once you have seen the main attraction (this time it was the beautiful station) you don´t have much energy for further sightseeing. Today rocked! We rocked! The paths were rocks! We rocked and rolled on narrow rocky paths at the base of scree slopes on large gravel stones, crossing shored up landslides and scree beds. We kept climbing up and then going down to cross the road and walk on the other side. Then back again we go, down to the road and climb up the opposite hill. At one stage we had to duck to walk under the overpass of the main road above us, circle around the concrete supports and climb up the other side.
On one long winding rocky path we heard cowbells and kept trying to look through the hedges to see them. And then, around the corner came a shepherd and his enormous flock of sheep and goats, many of the larger animals with cowbells around their necks. We stood aside to let them pass (it was a bum to bum traffic jam!) and it seemed as though the flock was never ending. Another shepherd and his dog brought up the rear and he said that there were over 300 animals in the flock.
After exiting the countryside we entered Castillo de Jaca on a very steep village road down to the main village and highway below. Most fortified towns were built on high ground and this one was no exception. Going down, down, down we marvelled at the locals who have to walk up and down this winding, steeply graded road every day. We stopped in a lovely shady public park for biscuits and cheese and filled up our water bottles before continuing. The signs have changed from the blue and yellow of the Amis St Jacques to a combination of those and yellow arrows. It is amazing at how much you depend on those splashes of yellow. At one stage we were walking with a Frenchman from Bordeaux and missed the arrow pointing down a steep flight of wooden stairs to the road below. We retraced our steps and went down, down, down once again to join another rocky road.
There is a steep climb up to the outskirts of Jaca and then a fairly long walk into the town and to the albergue following yellow arrows and brass shells in the pavement. The albergue is very modern with cubicles and beds instead of bunks. The showers are good and the kitchen well equipped. It was closed when we arrived so we left our packs in the foyer and returned to a lovely street restaurant we´d passed on the way. We were all dying for salad so gorged on delicious fresh salads before visiting the Farmacia to buy some extra padding for our feet

Val - Minister of Nutrition Today was a lovely walk and I had to sing:
"I am walking to Pamplona
All the way to Spain
I am walking to Pamplona
In wind and sun and rain
When I get to my albergue
I will be just fine
If I have nice hot shower
and a little glass of wine".
On the way to Jaca I had pinned my socks onto my backpack to dry and somewhere on the way I must have lost one so now I am minus a sock, which leaves me with one pair of socks, until I can find a place to buy another pair. Syl has kindly offered to lend me a pair of hers if I need them. There is nothing worse than catching a glimpse of yourself in a shop is not a pretty sight...however, I am sure that they modelled the wonder bra on a woman carrying a back pushes you in, up and out. Unfortunately, the stirnum strap then pushes you down and makes the smallest look well endowed but hanging low. I also look for Real Estate Offices in the hope of finding an innovative way of displaying properties but as with other countries I have not found any to be better than our own. English still has the best shop fronts. We arrive in Jaca, it is gorgeous the sun is shining, it is buzzing...pavement cafes and shops...but the shops other than the food ones, do not interest me because I cannot carry (until I get to Pamplona!).The restaurants open until around 4.30pm and then only open again at 9pm...our accommodation has a 10pm curfew so we will not be able to eat tonight. The service is good, but quite rightly relaxed and we would never get a meal served and eaten by 10pm. And so we decide to have a late lunch. Whilst I would like to eat my way through a 4 course meal, we are desperate for fresh vegetables and greens. Marion and I share a huge salad Ensalada Especial Verno for 12euros. It has a small leaved green salad as its base, similar to watercress but I cannot remember the name...we do not get it in SA. The salad has melon balls, ham, tomatoes and feta and is absolutely delicious. A vino tinto accompanies this.Well two actually. We then go and settle into our accommodation and shower, wash the flipping clothes which you know will not dry and have to be pinned on your back again. Then we get free internet access, two computers. We have to make up for 7 days of posting, 8 if you count that we start on Day minus if you started reading on Day 1, scroll back down because you have missed some! We type away until 9pm then discuss the plans for tomorrow - it is now 9.25pm and then Marion and I decide to sneak out for a glass of wine. We are told that the place closes up for the night at 10pm and so you must be back. We go into the village and find a lovely wine bar...barrels outside for tables, great wine list and wine cellar inside, tapas and lots of food to buy. We do not have time to study the wine list so quickly order two glasses of Chardonnay. Beautiful wine glasses and just the right temperature. We sit under the evening sky
watching all the locals looking happy with their children playing in the streets. Service again is very relaxed and we only get our wine at 9.40pm. We enjoy it and then realise that we still have to walk back so we call for the bill. I am struggling to find the correct word for bill and Marion simply signs to the waiter and he understands. He comes with the bill (1.60 e per glass) and I only have a 20euro note so we have to wait for change. As he moves away he stops at two tables to take their order but he is discussing the wines (quite rightly) with his customers and Marion begins to count down the time...9.52, 9.53....we are desperate, as he finishes with the last customer we run inside - not time for translation and I just hope he understands some English or the desperate look of two 50 somethings who have to be in bed
by 10pm...."Excuse me, excuse me...please the bill...we are staying at the Refugio and have a 10pm curfew"...he smiles wonderfully, and hastily gets us the we are walking out I see Chirizo made from deer and wild boar...only 3.40 euros for a huge pack, I pick it up but Marion looks desperate...9.57....we are wearing crocs and quickly move into a speed walking motion and we make it inside just as the lady is zipping up her bag and walking to the door. Phew! Then to bed........

Day 6: Borce to Confranc Estación

Leaving Borce

Misty hills

Fort fu Portalet - an infamous prison

Deep, green lake
Leaving the river - climbing
Crossing into Spain
Camino Sign in Spain

Col du Somport

Somport Ski Lodges
Walking down the pass in Spain

Flowers on the route

So far we have been so lucky with our accommodation, it has been really good and we have had super food. The weather has also been good to us, only a bit of rain in the beginning ideal walking weather not to cold or to hot. We do need to start off with a fleece and after a short time take it off, have to say our spats are wonderful as they keep all the dust and bits and pieces off our socks.
The scenery was magnificent mountains all around us. Could see quite a bit of snow on the mountain top.
Although it was a tremendous day and I thoroughly enjoyed it, at the same time I found it my most difficult day so far. It was all uphill to the Col du Somport. We walked on the road which I found very hard going and it wound round and round all the way up to the top. Lots of huge trucks coming and going to and from Spain. One had to be aware the whole time, sometimes hardly any shoulder, so when a truck came passed you had to stand as close to the side as possible.
What a view at the top of Col du Somport. Walla!! we were all of a sudden in Spain! We stopped at the top for a coffee and then wound our way down to Canfranc Estacion.
A long hard day but enjoyed every minute.

Was a bit stiff this morning although Borce is only about 630m. Last night we made a decision to walk on the road to Somport. The CSJ guide describes the road route as being more scenic so up the road we went - and up, and up, and up.

For the first four hours we couldn't see higher than the tops of the trees due to the heavy mist but when the sun did break through we caught glimpses of snow capped mountains and craggy peaks.
Whereas I was feeling a bit flat and wooden yesterday on those rocky, river paths, I went up like a steam train today and it was Marion´s turn to feel like a wooden doll. We stopped more frequently, not only because of the climbing but because the sun finally came out and was burning down on us. We climbed from 636m to 1600m at the pass. What a welcome sight and a good stop at the cafeteria for a drink and a rest.
It is 7.5km down to Canfranc Estacion and once more we opted for the road rather than the steep path down to 1200m. On the road a fellow in a 4X4 stopped us and gave us a card for a Casa Rural in Canfranc Est. I had emailed Peppito Grillo about rooms but when we got there we rang the bell a few times and nobody came, we found the La Tuca Casa Rurul and booked in there. A charming house with very comfortable rooms at 20€ person bed and breakfast. We visited the stunning station which was used in the film Dr Zivago, and then went back to our Casa and asked about dinner on the terrace of the house next door. 9pm she said. 9pm!! Oi. We went back to town and bought food for dinner which Val will tell you about.

Val - Minister of Nutrition
We set off early so breakfast is not worth mentioning.
I was expecting it to be really tough by the description and other peoples comments but perhaps it was easier on the road. It certainly did not compare to walking over the Alps so that was a pleasant surprise.
We made it to the top and had coffee, two in fact..heaven! It was a lovely little cafe (and bar) and reminded me of the pub at the top of Sani Pass. We were soon on our way down and into Spain. Somport has a great Ski-ing resort, lots of new building going on. The contrast as we get into Spain is striking. The sky is suddenly blue and the people wear clothes with colour and they just look healthier with shining hair and skin. There is a huge amount of building going on we trust they have escaped the recession. Good for them.
As Syl says we are staying in the place where they filmed Dr Zhivago and I shall be getting the film out when I get back...the station is an extraordinary piece of architecture. Our rooms are bright and cheery and the owner has put a lot of effort into the decor. We decide that tonight we will eat out and there is a restaurant next door with tables outside. It is a lovely evening. At 4pm we have a glass of wine and I translate the menu...we all get excited and decide on our choice.
Now for those of you that know me well and for those of you that have followed my previous blog, you will realise that I am not eating in the restaurants, side cafes etc. And so, this trip for me is so far gastronomically speaking a disappointment.
But things are looking up, Confranc is full of pavement restaurants with tapas menus everywhere..and so I decide that tonight it is going to be the menu Sugerencias Hecho Para Ti - I am so excited I take a picture of the menu...I am going to have Esparragos blanco con bacalao y de jamon -which translates to something like Asparagus, Salt cod and worth a try. For Segundos...I chose Margaret de pato en salsa frambue...which I hope I have translated correctly as Duck.
Right, do we need to book and what time do your open? 9pm she says! Too late, we are starving and no one can wait another 5 hours. And so it is off to the supermarket once more for bread!
However, the evening meal turned out to be a was a lovely evening and we bought a carton of red (vino tinto...pronounced beeno tinto and remembered to lisp when we said thankyou...grathias!!) we bought bread, pate and cheese, cocktail olives, peppers and onions (our own tapas) and finished off with Lindt chocolate orange. The pate was chunky pork with a light surround of jelly and would make any half decent pork pie feel unworthy. We laid out our feast on a park bench and sat on the pavement. I had bought 2 goblets for Marion and me and we at least drunk our wine in style...a fellow walker came past and marvelled at our his broken English he said"well there is no compromise for some things" right!
The supermarkets are heaven and I am so tempted to buy to take home but will wait until the airport...I will smuggle as much duck as I can carry....I have however bought Martin some dried chillis as he loves cooking with these and some saffron...not sure of the quality and the price 3.8euros probably suggests that it isn´t great. The supermarkets carry a tiny selection of everything until you come to the food...anchovies 3 times the size we are used to, whole sides of hams, cheese, smoked salmon, caviar - there is not one clothes shop in the whole what does that tell you?

Day 5: Sarrance to Borce

Jim and Ann (Left) Sil, Val & Marion (right)

The River in front of the Fontaine Complex


Narrow paths on the edge of the river

Narrow, muddy paths through the forest

Negotiating a crumbling path

At last - a view!!

It was such an interesting stay at our accomodation last evening with Ann, Jim and Jerry. We all had a tour of the property and a delicious meal. Val and myself shared a room and Syl shared a room with Ann. After breakfast in the morning we set off and our 1st stop was in the centre of Sarrance.
We walked alongside the valley of IÁrrec d´Isson high above the Gave dÁspe which flows in a deep gorge. The path was very rocky and lots of mud, almost clay earth which sucked onto our boots. Most of the day was on the mountain side - it was tremendous.
We had a mountain on our left our path then the river, then the road and then another mountain on the right. Lots of green trees and sometimes a garden of flowers. Sometimes the river was right next to us and sometimes deep down below. At times the path was very rocky, we crossed over a bridge a couple ot times to the other side. We also saw a lot of Royal eagles, such beautiful birds.
Although our path went up and down we were actually climbing the whole day. At times you could see the mountains on the other side with snow on top of them.
It was such a tremendous day.

When you walk along riverine paths through a forest there are long periods when there is no light, no view and nothing to do but look at your feet. Marion loves the forest paths but I prefer them to be a bit wider than they were today! At times they seemed postively dangerous, no wider that 12cm, sloping to the long drop down to the river far below. We covered the first 5km in 2hours, up one slippery slope and then down equally slippery slopes, sometimes almost next to the raging river but at other times high above. We finally came out of the river onto a small road and climbed up to Borce, a charming, spotlessly clean village with a St James refuge (that was full when we stopped) and finally to the Communal Gite in the centre of the village. We had an 8 bed room to ourselves, managed to do most of our washing and buy soup and vegetables, bread and wine for dinner which we ate in the Gite diningroom. Until now we've been spoiled with Sebastien cooking for us in Asson, Pierre and Sebastien cooking for us in Arudy, a restaurant meal in Oloron and Richie's lovely dinner last night in Sarrance. Tomorrow night we'll be sleeping in Spain!

Val - Minister of Nutrition
After a good nights sleep, we all met in the ´the dining room´for breakfast. Corrine had laid the table with lovely bright tablecloths and crockery and there was fresh coffee brewed. We had a breakfast of bread and brioche with jams. Too much bread now!
Today I felt tired, strange given the lovely sleep. We had a lovely walk through forests and there were buildings like crofts all over, Marion and I went into one and got dive bombed by bats..horrid!We had lunch in a field...checked to see if there were any bulls as I did not carry my mace spray this time...chance to layout our wet clothes and dry them...finally some blue sky showing through for the first day.
"Syl said we had to get going"
"We said, No! No! No!
During the walk today I felt really guilty-I dream of the Pilgrim Refugio being full and we have to stay in a hotel - 4 star at least! We arrive and the "Inn is indeed full" Yipee! Despite exhaustion I could dance in a manner that would make Flattery and his dance troupe envious. Syl asks if there is a hotel (a Chambre). Non, Non just a community gite in the I think..please let there be a room, I just want to be able to lie horizontally. So we walk a little further and there is the Gite with its own supermarket and what is this a BAR! With tables outside on a terrace.The Gite is a brand new dormitory style accommodation with lovely kitchen and huge pine table. The village itself is spotless and looks new, we realise it is indeed an original Medival Village which the community has restored...each building has a before and after picture on it. I sit outside, order a cold glass of wine and phone Martin.
I go back inside and ask for another wine...another she says! They are very small glasses, average cost of a glass of wine has been 1.60 euros.
We shop in the supermarket and buy soup and bread and I ask for another wine to take with me...this is your last she says!
Everywhere the name Borce is accompanied by a picture of a Bear and we ask if Borce means Bear but it doesn´t. They have 8 bears in the National Park.
Tomorrow it is apparently straight up and over the Pyrenees so we buy lots of food and treats to keep us going including chocolate - and especially an orange for old time sake...In Italy we had a day where we could not cross the river because the bridge had been destroyed...we tried to do a detour but couldn´t and over an hour and half later had to go back and cross the river....we were exhausted in 40 degree heat and had already covered 45 km...Kathy had the only piece of food remaining, an orange...we each had a this day I have never eaten a sweeter tasting orange.
Well tomorrow is Spain and I really hope it is a lot brighter in everyway than this part of France. Thankfully the beautiful Pyrenees is not overshadowed by its grey inhabitants. The people are quite scruffy and on the whole the villages have been dirty.Even young people look as if they have never had a decent haircut and their clothes are just whatever they grabbed that morning. Sorry but that is my opinion...cannot really comment on the food as we only had the opportunity to eat out once.