April 18, 2011
March 7th was the most beautiful day of our travels. The weather was perfect. Sunny and crispy as it can be only in the mountains. We got breakfast in our Hostal by River Ara in Fiscal -with the view of the river, for the hostel is built right on the edge of the river. Kind of scary, because that edge was very high. Here is the view:
So then we started our driving-through-the-mountains day stopping at almost every little town we found on our way. The first town – Sarvise:
Oto in the distance:
Broto -seemed like old was connected with new to get a mountain resort:
There was even a waterfall in town with twisting rocks on its side:
Then we turned from the main road towards Balneario di Panticosa -a ski resort, and saw this:
It seemed like a fairy tale, this little town of Torla, where we had an extended walk. it also seems so low under the mountains. But actually you have to climb to get into it from the parking. As every town here in Pyrenees it is on a hill or a higher edge between the very high mountains. I can’t imagine a more picture perfect town…Even on this very bright sunny day when the pictures also don’t come out as good, almost the same as on rainy days:
Everything looks pretty grey, I agree, because of the grey stones they used for buildings and the lack of flowers – too early in spring. So at least those jackets were making the walls of a shop brighter.
This is already another town on the way where we had our lunch – Menu Dia.
Here we proceed on the road to Balneario di Panticosta, by a reservoir – what a beautiful name!
This one on top – is looking back from where we came.
Balneario is “downstairs”, ski elevators were everywhere seen on the right – but there was nothing to do for us and we didn’t even land there, just looking from the top road was enough.
Then we drove through Jaca, didn’t stop there either, and again up to some lower mountains towards Monasterio De San Juan De La Pena, it is mentioned in all tourist books and is on a back road but on one of the main pilgrimages routes:
Here is what opened to our eyes once we drove up in a forest, as it opens to pilgrims eyes:
Actually this is a new monastery. But is is built in a kind of a Gothic style. As we didn’t get into any excursions…our knowledge about places was not as deep. I couldn’t get enough of that view that pilgrims first see as they get out of the forest:
The lawn was full of very tiny daffodils and the forest – some blue spring flowers that bloom in Lithuania and it was very sentimental to see them. We used to go to the forests by our city on Sundays to pick some of those spring prophets. I am sorry. I don’t know their English name. And their color didn’t come right in pictures, so no flowers . Instead – the lower monastery, which was arranged under a sandstone rock, very similar to Utah rocks:
Then again – lots of driving, with medieval towns here and there:
Till we reached another monastery- de Leyre:
Also on a hill, also to the side of a main road, also with views:
They had a hotel there, but it was still closed and also – when we looked at its prices – they were not for dollar zone pockets. We also noticed that there is a spring of Virgin Mary, where we filled our bottles with very tasty and maybe even sacred water:
The whole little garden where the spring was was charming! I wish we had to eat some sandwiches here. but our schedule was different, the sun was setting and we had to find a place to sleep which was the hardest task on our whole trip (lots of road construction on the way, so the workers occupied all the scarce hotels, motels).
(more in next blog)
April 16, 2011
On March 6th we were driving through Aragon. At first we drove down from Berga on C16, then turned left towards Lleida, but didn’t stop anywhere till we reached Calaf:
The reason we stopped there – we needed gasoline. So we felt our duty to park the car and go towards the main cathedral, but saw the same type of a church as everywhere in those parts of Spain, the same squares. Good. So we got our gas, and to tell the truth – a very peculiar truth – this gas was the cheapest we ever came upon in Spain anywhere in our future drivings. Everywhere else the price was the same- whether you pump it in the center of a city or in the suburbs. There is no way of being smart and saving on gas while finding better places where to fill up. that was our experience, except for Calaf . That already tell that Calaf is not a tourist destination nor it is a flourishing industrial city.
Driving around Lleida, on the ring highway we missed Rt. 240 towards Monzon and found ourselves by Rio Cinca. Whatever, we drove up by that river and the creatures we saw on a small town’s Osso de Cinca church tower made us stop:
Isn’t strange – storks were nesting on each corner of the tower…
Not only nesting, but living their social life to their fullest with those clacking sounds and lots of trash under the tower . And then we reached Monzon and its towering castle on the hill:
We found a very narrow road going up to the castle, but by that time we already felt “castled out”, plus the hazard of driving that one way “hardly to pass road without breaking you car’s mirror or a side door”, so we just looked around in the main square at the bottom of the castle hill and drove out of town.
Next city – Barbastro. They were doing lots of road renovations in the very downtown of it, so we didn’t spend much time there, either, just a pic of their Cathedral:
A stork on top of it:
and a sculpture about their catholic past:
A note: there are olive trees in the background. you can see them in many place sin cities as decoration trees as well as olive groves as plantations for producing olives. Barbastro is described in tourist books as a city of beautiful architecture. We didn’t spend enough time to see something very amazing or different than other cities we have already seen. From Barbastro we kept driving up by river Cinca, saw a couple of dams and lakes on the way – they looked magnificent in between mountains which started to appear and grow bigger and bigger:
There were little old towns, I mean very very old towns on the shores of those lakes – evidently at some point they were built to stand high up on a hill and when people lifted the river water – they found themselves almost on the water, but still picture perfect.
Some of them still stayed high up. New architectural details started to show up – peculiar chimneys:
And soon enough we reached Ainsa – an old fortress town. This time again we didn’t look for a way to drive up, but parked the car at the bottom, therefore letting ourselves get some exercise and climb a not very small hill with the medieval town glued to its top and sides:
Of course, it was a pleasure to walk around in the narrow stone streets where no cars were allowed, alas…
and take pictures of the confluence of two rivers at the bottom of the city hill:
There is a rather big central square close by the fortress of the town, full of restaurants and hotels:
and the fortress walls:
A very impressive town that Ainsa was…It was getting dark, the sun set and we still had to drive by the river Ara towards Hostal Rio Ara. On the way there was this abandoned town Janovas – which we noticed only because a lady at the informattion center in the castle in Ainsa told us to pay attention to it – people were replaced to other areas to live in order to make a dam on river Ara and flood the valley. But then the authorities changed their minds and therefore – the abandoned village…
I have to say that the road by this river was very narrow and at times we had to stop and let another car through. Good the season has not started yet. So there we very few other cars. I thought it would be nice to walk in the ruins of the village Janovas, but we had no time. it was getting late. More about Hostal Rio Ara and the little towns by it – in the next Blog.
April 11, 2011
A little interruption in Spain Blogs (they will follow after this one). As usually in April, we did a two night trip to Vegas. To have some fun before the season kicks in. And to enjoy Vegas while it is not too hot. Well, it was not hot at all, even cold. Too cold to swim in the hotel swimming pool outside…
This time we stayed at Rio. The rate we got spoke about not the best situation in the numbers of visitors to Vegas. Well, to mind they built too many hotels, but I guess they know what they are doing because they are building more. After setting up in Rio and catching the jingle-and-rush atmosphere there we drove out to eat at Mt. Everest indian restaurant on Sahara Ave. It is the matter of taste, but we think their service and food are good, and the prices are reasonable.
Then we rushed to listen to Valeri Glava’s playing his violin at Venetian -in St. Marcus square. He plays with a trio every evening except Mon-Tue. And he does it with great enthusiasm, very pleasant classic pieces. Some people just come to sit and listen for a couple of hours.
Amazing how late the shops and galleries are open in Vegas – evidently they are also lacking business. After 10 pm, when his concert ended – we still wandered around the Venetian and checked the art galleries we like:
If you are not an employee of a certain casino or at least not a constant visitor to some particular casino, it is not always easy to drive directly to the parking of the casino you are intended. So we parked at Palazo, for that is where the traffic lanes as if directed us. But whatever, they are both connected and so it was rather pleasant to the spring decorations of Palazo before heading to Venetian:
I don’t remember Palazo being decorated with taste, so the same story this time…My guess – each casino group has different designers, so while their expenses for the decor may not differ greatly, their taste does…On the other hand – the spaces are so huge, it is really tricky to think of how to fill it up. It is much easier to criticize . For the amount of flowers and sometimes for some of their arrangement ideas my favourite is Bellagio, which we visited the next evening:
So much about flowers. The next day we observed how sting rays and sharks were fed by a diver at Silverton casino in a coral reef aquarium:
That was quite an attraction. As you can see the sting rays have their mouth under their body. Some of them would swim eagerly and grab the squid from the diver but some were not so hungry, so the diver literally pushed the squid into their mouths. The same with the sharks, but don’t think they were large ones. Just small playful sharks, some of whom are nocturnal and they just stay at the bottom of the aquarium, but the diver felt they needed nutrients and also pushed squid into their sharp mouths.
The next stop-the Flamingo hotel-casino. They have this nice courtyard with flamingos, swans, koi fish, ducks and other creatures all in a beautiful park setting:
Then again Bellagio. it is very comfortable to park in one of those hotels – Flamingo, Harras, Ballys , Paris, Bellagio or Cesar’s palace and walk around them using the bridges to cross the Strip or Flamingo ave. We prefer to park in the Bellagio because the elevator from the parking gets you directly to the flower world. But there are other nice walks in Bellagio besides the flowers, with designer stores and well designed restaurants on the sides and not as crowded as Cesar’s Palace :
This restaurant is called Yellow Tail – and this wall in front imitates the scales of a fish. The thing about Vegas is that each time you wander around its casinos – you will see new interiors, new details you never noticed earlier. They have exhibits here and there and once we visit Vegas 2 times a year only, we find them changed. This time I looked around the entrance to Cirque de Soleil entrance in Bellagio – a sculptor Richard McDonald was exposing his very realistic but expressive works:
There was a TV screen showing how he works with the models – circus artists, constantly moving and doing poses for him.
Next stop – from the riches to the rags:-) -we had dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant that we found on the internet. Once we got there – we wanted to leaved, but stayed to be done with it- to feel like we visited Ethiopia and never bother to go there again :
It is not about the interior, yes, it was very simple and luxurious, but the atmosphere was too Ethiopian for us – there were only exceptionally Ethiopians there speaking their language rather loudly, the waitress, alas, spoke some English, there were barely 8 or 10 items on the menu, but the food was tasty and interesting, just too spicy hot for my stomach. So we felt we visited the country, “check!”.
Already for late in the evening we left the best part – The City Center. Again -had a hard time finding the parking for Aria hote, so parked where it was easy – in Cosmopolitan and were happy about it/ I would strongly advise to park there to make your walks around those new contemporary hotels -casinos, galleries, shops,restaurants -once you get from the parking lot to the 2nd floor – you just almost bump into a humongous chandelier – it is as if a chandelier with a restaurant inside/ But the strings of beads, the drapes made from them, are worth seeing and enjoying:
There are bridges connecting all those new buildings,so you have no problem, walking around them, just follow the written directions.
We didn’t take many pictures in the ones we have already been last year and I showed them in my previous blogs about Las Vegas, but it was very curious to see the new Hotel -not a casino! – Oriental Mandarin. We are used to cheap Chinese buffets called Mandarin. This time – a completely different story. This hotel though it stands in the same City center – cannot be reached from those nice connecting bridges…you have to get down on the street level, go around some smaller buildings and walk to its entrance – I guess to stop crowds from entering it in vain. But the two men who met us at the entrance were very pleasant though we warned that we are just browsing, not staying there, they directed us to the elevator and said that their reception is on the 23rd floor! Wonderful – the whole Strip was seen from the big windows there, the lobby quite in the dark so that the lights form the Strip would be especially bright – and a couple of restaurants by those big windows, very silent relaxing music – a very nice spot to enjoy the peace and quietness in Vegas, which is by rule a noisy city. But we didn’t take many pictures there, so you have to come and see for yourself. Just the lobby and the wall once you get from the elevator (it seemed quite impressive):
On the way we found several galleries, again – open way after 10 pm, one of them a new Chihuli glass gallery, with a sreen showing how his crew are blowing and heating and creationg those masterpieces:
And back to Cosmopolitan, where this time we noticed some nice ceilings and a wall of a store made from old sewing machines:
And finally – our hotel room, it was big, all the rooms are like suites in Rio:
April 10, 2011
March 5th. Took my mom to the airport which is on very confusing roads by Girona… But luckily we found it in the pitch dark of the early morning. The airport seemed mid size, rather convenient for those who fly in and take a train to Barcelona from there. Then we still rested for a while in the hotel and left towards Banyoles, Besalu, Olot, Ripoll, but didn’t stop anywhere except for our sandwich lunch somewhere on a mountain ridge by Ripoll where we could already see white tips of Pyrenees in between pine trees. The plan was to see Ripoll’s Cathedral, but once we got into the town – we saw such a long flow of cars towards the center, which were mostly standing still, which is called traffic jam -a strange thing to be seen in those remote to our minds areas – maybe because it was Saturday and everyone was heading towards ski resorts. So we lost interest in the cathedral and headed further to Berga. The roads were mountain type and winding…The views were beautiful. There were small castles on the way, we stopped at one of them, and called it “The private castle” – because we forgot its name, I am sure it had it:
It consisted of a church on the highest point of the hill, a tiny cemetery on the right behind that gate, living quarters of the owners, with the whole farming life – livestock hanging around, farm buildings, etc. and a restaurant at the very entrance of this tiny ansamble of medieval buildings:
Life in such a farm seems romantic, especially with the views they have. But is it easy – I doubt…
Then by Berga we drove up another already higher mountain with a castle on top, so here are the views:
The castle has a name-Balsareny, but it looked very plain, just a square simple castle like you see.
We decided to stay in Berga, they have a nice modern hotel Estel, easy to find, easy to leave the town from there. As there was still lots of sunny time of the day we drove a loop visiting Cardona and Solsona which are described in tourist books. Cardona has a big hill of salt on its side. but the sun was shining from that side. we couldn’t take apicture/ Nothing very special about that salt , though, they just mine it there. But it also has a big castle with a Parador in it- a Parador is a Spanish government owned hotel usually installed in an old castle, usually well installed so it can have like 4-5 stars and guests can experience living in very romantic, old, but at the same time comfortable surroundings. But we left this experience for the times we get rich. Here is the view of Cardona:
It seemed very empty and not very charming though the weather that day was perfect. Its cemetery – kind of strange…
the next stop- Solsona. It met us with lots of dressed in colorful clothes people gathered around 4 puppets – so we decided they were celebrating Mardi Gras – or a day before Ash Wednesday. It wasn’t the exact time for that, it wasn’t Tuesday./ but as everywhere where people have to work on Tuesdays, they celebrate it on Saturday. The celebration was obvious only from the gathered kind of Halloween costumed crowds, from decorated narrow streets – each one with different objects – one with handbags, the other with paper garlands or cards or figures, but not from their faces. There were no smiles, everyone very serious… Maybe I am too used to Americans smiling everywhere? But life seems shinier when one smiles! So here are the streets and puppets:
Families and some kind of teams of people had same colored clothes. There was also a stage with music in their main square and as usual – the fair! With cheeses and cured meats form farmers, some local crafts and mostly…bags and other crafts from Thailand…Those Thai people must be very diligent and busy supplying all the world with their handwork…
When we came back to Berga – there was a parade there, too. But we only took one picture. Were mostly filming the dances of the parade, of which they had plenty. Each float had a group of dancers in front of it – like cheerleaders. And who were those dancers- exceptionally girls…Even the pirates of this ship were girls. I wonder what were the boys doing at that time? I bet they were the ones who did the decorations and floats.
Here are some views of Berga (the first one is from our hotel door, next -our hotel rom):
The church that dominates its skyline is old from the outside but very modern inside:
This last one is a mosaic depicting circus and fairy tales over a police station…
April 8, 2011
It was a gloomy 4th of March…Not a good day for driving towards the Mediterranean and sightseeing, but no choice/ Once you are on a trip – you have to travel and try to get as much as possible. The alternative – to see less, but that is not my choice, almost never. So we drove off Figueres on Rt 260 to Llanca which looked like a resort town with many white good villas their window shutters closed for the winter. In other words – the town looked almost dead. So we drove on the coast road towards El Port de la Selva – a fishing village as they call it. Here is how it opened to our eyes:
THere was no problem to park the car and even in that cloudy, windy and rainy day we felt a pleasure walking by the port on boardwalk and then climbing towards its church:
When you look towards sea from there – there is no open sea to be seen, which is a good idea to have a fishing port in such an enclosed bay. It looked very cozy in the gloomy weather, I imagine how it looks on a sunny and warm day.
On the main square by the sea there was a farmers’ market, so we bought some olives, boy, they are tasty, but it is very hard to choose from such a variety:
Then on a windy mountain road we drove back towards Figueres, didn’t turn towards Cadaques, where Dali spent his summers, left for another time, and drove to Empuriabrava. As Everything in thet area is called “Empuris”, we misunderstood it for a place with ancient Greek ruins, which is Sant Marti d’Empuries. But whatever, we had a chance to see a kind of new Venice of Spain -as it is built on marshes, there are canals all over designed like combs, very even, very straight -and every house, evidently, owns a boat:
In search for those Greek ruins we stopped at a town Castello d’Empuries – where we got to a series of nice little squares connected by narrow streets:
Over there we asked at the information center and figured out where the Greek ruins are. And also I am always very interested to see cemeteries – here we traveled already for more than a week -not a single cemetery…Not like in Paris- they are in the middle of the city. So I was told that usually their cemeteries are outside of the cities, and with the help of a map we found Castello’s:
They differ a lot from the cemeteries I have seen – they usually look like a fort or a prison from the outside – just straight walls and you can’t see what is inside/ then you have to enter through the gate and see those walls have shelves for coffins…Some rich families have their chaplets. In that way they take less space, maybe there is a good reason to design them like that. A little bit like the fancy cemetery in Hollywood.
Here is the church of Castello (those cars – they are always in the way of a good pic…):
By the church square:
After leaving Castello we had a hard time finding the right road. Some main circles didn’t mention the town we were heading to: San Pere Pescador. So after driving back and forth on the highway in between the circles – we at last figured it out and found a very good restaurant by the road where they served menu dia – in L’Armentera, heading towards L’Escola. The women servers were very nice with us – they showed us the choices so we didn’t need to worry about not knowing the language…And the choices were very good , the lunch was very big and very tasty. Especially the desert – Crema Catalunya. Did i earlier mention that they serve vine with each lunch…So I got drunk. for I don’t need much, and the rest of the day wasn’t so depressing, though it rained really hard. By the time the three of us, all with our bellies full reached that town with Greek ruins – San Marti d’Empuries -the rain, the ticket you have to buy to get there, the wind and the cloudy skies – didn’t go well together and we decided to drive and and then investigate La Brisbal d’Empordia instead. The town didn’t look very impressive, but still not bad:
I wish my garden was this size and I could keep as neat as this one is:
Only while leaving Brisbal we realized that it is mentioned in tourist books not for its own beauty but for a medieval village on its side. We didn’t have tome to visit it, the day was going towards the close. And we still wanted to see the surroundings of Begur -where we again couldn’t find a road towards some mountain on the coast. but instead we found a tiny resort town Sa Tuna:
Yes, all the windows are still closed everywhere on the coast…Evidently very few people live there year round. You would wonder – oranges grow there like in California -and they use the towns only in summers?
I just have to show you those three mermaids! Spanish seem to have some good humor reflected on their buildings, but not on their faces, which carry very serious expressions. But here are the mermaids from closer so that you can see their teeth:
Some houses have their emblems:
After saying good bye to Mediterranean, we drove back to Girona and on the way noticed a town very nicely located on a hill with its church towar sticking in the middle – it was Pals (a very short name in comparison with other visited towns) and we couldn’t resist visting it:
Be prepared, there will be many pictures of this town because we loved it so much! Most of all the towns we visited so far on this trip. Why? Sometimes love cannot be reasonably explained :
And here how cold it was – I was wearing Andrei’s winter jacket on my spring jacket and my mom said she has never felt so cold through the whole cold winter of Lithuania this year…:
You can see modern balconies and windows built in those very medieval walls of stone – and everybody seems to be happy, no “Monument preservation” wars… like it would happen if they did it in Vilnius’, Lithuanian capital, old town, I guess…Or maybe not – they built a crazy palace behind Vilnius Cathedral in Lithuania, spoiling the whole view of the Cathedral and the sacred mountain behind it – well, there were some protests…with no results. But here they do it with such a taste, that no one could argue that those big windows enhance the look of the streets.
Evidently this castle on top of the town is owned as a private home, a romantic one!
We seemed to be the only ones in the town that day, except for a girl in a souvenir shop. But it is sometimes nice to be the only ones! especially in a town you fell in love with!
That was a big day! especially having in mind that we with my mom literally ran in the dark to the center of Girona once we got to the hotel – to hear the concert by the Armenian pianist. But it was worth listening and running, except that we were tired…