11 August 2013

Hiking in the Pyrenees: Day 1

Andorra/ Spanish Pyrenees: Visited 19July13- 22July13

After 3 nights in Andorra La Vella I woke to a cool morning, ready to begin what turned out to be quite a tiring (but very enjoyable) 3 day hike, stopping at Refuges for the first 2 nights. Here's a captioned photo essay of my hike.

Hiked from La Comella (just outside Andorra La Vella) to Refugi del Orris, following first the road to the GR7 route, which met the GR11 route, which I followed for the remainder of the hike.
Leaving Civilization Behind. "It's just me and you now, pack"

The roaring Riu Madriu which I followed for all of Day 1
Panorama of my lunch stop at Refugi de Fontverd. I arrived from the valley to the right and continued along the Valley to the left. There was a water pump just outside the Refuge.
This is just a hint of the many beautiful views I had, of craggy mountains rising from scree, Pine forests, and sunny mountain valley meadows.

The first of many stream/ river crossings.

Looking back the way I'd come, Just outside Refugi del Orris, which was to be my bed for the night.
Refugi del Orris. After a snack outside the first drops of rain began to fall, signalling the beginning of that day's thunderstorm. I ducked inside the refuge to discover 2 Spanish girls already there. While we awaited the storm to finish we were joined by a group of 4 adults and about 14 kids who were stopping at the next refuge, Refugi de I'Illa. I decided to spend the night here instead, to avoid them, as although I knew Refugi de I'Illa was quite big, I thought it would be nicer to spend the night here. After the storm had passed the group moved on, and I enjoyed relaxing by the river (which was about 10ft in front of the Refuge) with my e-reader, and chatting to the Spanish girls. Later that evening a German Lady set up camp just outside the Refuge too.
That evening the Spanish girls set about lighting a fire in the wood burning stove area, as they had stopped there the previous night and been cold (I think they didn't have great sleeping bags, I was warm enough in mine) The refuges were all very basic, with a varying amount of metal bunks (this one had 6 spaces) and sometimes old foam mattresses, a bench table and chairs, and an area to burn firewood. There was no power of any sort, nor any toilets. Drinking water came from a small stream/spring that emerged from the rocks behind the Refuge, although I did see some people drinking water straight from the river.
This was my bed for the night. Despite the very basic facilities, I slept really well. I only woke once and that was when we were awakened by lights shining through the windows and banging on the door. A couple turned up at 1:30am. I think they were either very crazy, or had gotten very lost. Possibly a bit of both.
 After a quick wash in the cold river water, I set out at about 8am to make the most of the cool morning for hiking in, and began day 2 of my hike, which was to prove much more challenging...

4 August 2013

Andorra La Vella

Andorra La Vella: visited 16July13-19July13
Andorra La Vella is the capitol city of Andorra, a small country of only 464km2 nestled amongst the mountains of the Pyrenees, bordering France to the North and Spain to the South. It appealed to me because of the mountains, and is a fairly unusual holiday destination for a Brit. I don't know anyone else who has been to Andorra, so why not!
It was easy to get to, I took a bus direct from Barcelona Airport, as the we left the coast behind us the mountains grew before us, green and forested, with dramatic craggy cliff tops and several beautiful mountain lakes. The views were lovely, despite the lashing rain, lightning flashes and rumbling thunder of my first Thunderstorm experience of the Pyrenees. It certainly made a change from the hot sun of Barcelona, only a couple of hours before.
It was easy to get to, I took a bus direct from Barcelona Airport, as the we left the coast behind us the mountains grew before us, green and forested, with dramatic craggy cliff tops and several beautiful mountain lakes. The views were lovely, despite the lashing rain, lightning flashes and rumbling thunder of my first Thunderstorm experience of the Pyrenees. It certainly made a change from the hot sun of Barcelona, only a couple of hours before.

 I had 3 nights booked at Alberg de la Comella Hostel which was a nice hostel perched on a hill a 15min drive out of town. The hostel was clean, and tidy, and unfortunately for me, very empty. I had an 8 bunk room all to myself, and there never seemed to be more than about 6 other people there, who I glimpsed fleeting at breakfast. A further disappointment was the frequency of buses to town, I found that the limited schedule had me waiting for the first bus to town at 9:30, returning on the last one at 7:30pm, for a quiet night of reading.

 I did, however, have plenty of time to explore Andorra La Vella. It is predominately a city where French and Spanish tourists head to for shopping. Andorra is not part of the EU, which makes things such as electrical goods much cheaper. Apart from the shopping, it is used as a base for hiking the Pyrenees in the Summer, and Skiing them in Winter. My first day was pleasantly spent window shopping along the main street (with a hike planned next, I didn't want to add any needless weight to my rucksack). Following a brief lunch at a lovely little cafĂ© I headed along the river for a pleasant stroll, accompanied by the rushing waters. It was a bit strange spending all day alone, in a foreign country where I don't know the language, however lots of people spoke English and I managed fine on my own. The river walk took me to the old town, a pretty area of narrow cobbled streets and slightly quieter than the main shopping street. The daily 3pm thunderstorm saw me (along with everyone who just happened to be passing at that time) ducking into a nearby tavern for respite from the rain (and a beer). After the storm passed and a little more wandering I treated myself to dinner out (the hostel had no kitchen; the website did say they could provide evening meals, but I figured it wouldn't be that popular. I was right, the dinning hall was empty and dark when I returned).

I didn't really need a second day to see Andorra La Vella, but due to the limited bus stops at my hostel I was wary of venturing further afield, so instead I blew part of my budget on an afternoon at Caldea Spa. I haven't been to many Spa's in my time, (actually, I think this was the third) but it was easily the best Spa I've ever been too. The pool was a decent size with 4 whirlpool bowls as features in the middle f it. A waterway led outside where there was a lazy river, another Jacuzzi area and a seat ledge which was less bubbly than the Jacuzzi. There was fantastic views of the Pyrenees and Andorra La Vella, and plenty of places to sit and enjoy them. I'd timed my spa time perfectly to enjoy the outside both in the hot early afternoon sun and the hard, icy rain of the thunderstorm. There's something very exhilarating about being outside, in a pool, during a Thunderstorm. After playing in the lazy river for some time (I love lazy rivers) I headed back indoors to explore the hot pool and plunge pool (yes, I bravely submerged myself in the 14C water after warming myself in the 36C pool) along with the steam room, saunas, wood lighting area (which had narrow bands of UV lights in the ceiling) ice room, and various different showers/ water jets. It was a very relaxing way to begin my holiday. I had splurged on a back and leg massage that was booked at the end of 3 hours (I'd never had a leg massage before). My masseuse, Maria, was lovely and friendly, and had VERY good hands. She relaxed my legs so they didn't want to do much, and untied knots in my back in a way that was a little painful in an oh so pleasurable way. After a spot of wind down/up under some warm and relaxing infra red lights I decided I'd best get dressed before I fell asleep, and after a brief stop at the hypermarket for my dinner, I headed back to my Hostel, ready to pack and prepare for the hike ahead.


18 June 2013

Travel Inspiration: Into the Wild

Chris McCandles and the no 142 bus
he called home in Alaska
I recently watched Into the Wild.

It's a very moving true story (and involved a few tears) about a young American Man called Christopher McCandless. Following graduation he stepped away from the 'American Dream' to live his own. He gave all $24,000 of his saving to charity, abandoned his possessions, and sets off an amazing journey. He meets interesting people along the road, who he both learns from and teaches or helps in a small way that means something big. If nothing else, the things he experiences is inspiring. His journey through America culminates in his 'Big Alaskan Adventure' which is extremely moving, as he comes to terms with many things. The film is not only physical journey as he moves from place to place, but a journey of the mind. It not only inspires with all the possibilities that are out there, it serves as a cautionary tale too; he does several dangerous things, such as kayaking through rapids in the grand canyon, made all the more so by his inexperience and lack of preparation. The book is now very much on my must read list; it's one that I doubt I'll be able to put down.