Monthly Archives: July 2014

My car travels to Europe (day 5). Spain


Igualada, SpainSome 65 kilometers north of Barcelona there is a pretty old town called Igualada. We visited friends who live there and were given a very warm Belarus/Spanish welcome with all the usual traditions of dinner with local red wine and Spanish delicacies before being invited to spend the night with them. In the morning, we went for a walk around the town and discovered lots of beautiful buildings dating Igualadaback to the 11th century. The narrow streets, music in the bars, small shops selling hams and assorted delicacies as well as fruit and vegetables stores, are make this a wonderful environment that offers a cozy atmosphere to the many tourists who flock here every year to enjoy the annual European balloon festival that takes place in July.

MontserratNot far from Igualada there is a National park on a mountain, which includes the famous monastery of Montserrat. A few million years ago this beautiful mountain broke off from the Pyrenean range and 5 Spain (6)according to legend, angels sawed off the top of the mountain to create a crown for our Lady the virgin Marie. Montserrat actually means “Saw” in Spanish. This mountain is divided into several beautifully rounded tops which inspired the architect Antonio Gaudi in Barcelona to create his masterpiece the “Segrada Familia” as well as many other similar buildings with their wavy lines and natural shapes.


The road from Igualada winds up the mountain among spectacular scenery, mostly covered with green forest, it is here that we found one of the cutest daisies among the flora that numbers in excess of fifteen hundred species. The winding road up the mountainside leads one to the inner sanctum of Catalonia, the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat on the mountaintop, where tourists from all over the world come to worship and admire the beauty and architecture of this site.

A thousand years or so ago, the local village people found a wooden statue of the Madonna on the mountain which somehow glowed, whatever the reason it was installed on that spot as a place of worship, later the Benedictine monks built a monastery around it. Today the Virgin of Montserrat is in fact a copy made in the 12th century from a poplar tree and is now the main shrine and spiritual patroness of Catalonia. The actual monastery building is in fact the third one to be built on this site. Some people claim the black Madonna as it is known has healing powers and many from all over the world go there to make a wish and be healed from their ailments.


The Monastery of Montserrat is very large and you will need to spend a whole day to see it all. MontserratThere is also a museum, and a funicular railway that takes you to the very top of the mountain, or if you are fit enough you can climb the mountain on foot which offers fabulous picturesque views of the surrounding area. If you prefer not to climb mountains, in the lovely church you can listen to a boy’s choir from one of the oldest musical institutions of Europe.

There are many places in the world where you really want to go back and visit just one more time. I can assure you Montserrat is such a place.

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My car travels to Europe (day 4). Spain


European tour (Part 4)The Southern department of France, (Pyrenees-Oriental) was part of the former Principality of Catalonia, in the Kingdom of Aragon. Northeastern Spain and Andorra are also related to the Catalan lands. The next three days of our trip around Europe were devoted to traveling across the Basque lands of Catalonia.

From France to Barcelona, the capital of modern Catalonia, an autonomous region of Spain, you can drive along the E15 route or the D914. Of course, we Pyrenees-OrientalPyrenees-Orientalchose the road through the mountain pass with all the charm of romantic landscapes and breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea. The French town of Cerbere, nestling in a small bay surrounded by mountains, is the last French town before the Spanish border; we stopped there for lunch and ate lots of fresh apricots we purchased from a nearby market. During the hottest part of the day the town looked dead, all we saw was a half-empty café, a few strolling tourists and a couple of swimmers on the beach.


Driving up the mountains along Mediteranean coast, we reached a viewpoint with a fabulous view of the bay of Cerbere! Where an absolutely empty self-service petrol station was situated, after seeing no one around for miles we topped up with petrol via the automated petrol pump before crossing the Spanish border.


European tour (Part4)The Pyrenean Mountains named after a Greek goddess of ancient European tour (Part4)mythology. Have winding and sharp twisting roads that are extremely silent except for our motor climbing in low gear. The silence was not only from nature, but also due to a lack of cars on the road. The Spanish-French border was a pile of crumbling buildings deserted and dilapidated. After a few more turns along the narrow road we caught vision of our first Spanish city, possibly a resort on the Costa Brava.


Being in Barcelona, I forgot that the capital of Spain is Madrid. Barcelona is of course the capital of Catalonia. The town cannot be confused with any other in the world, because it is special and unique! The architect Antoni Gaudi created an unrepeatable façade for this town. Casa Mila, Casa Vicens, Casa Batllo are the most famous Gaudi projects created with an intuitive sense of natural harmony, in which wavy lines are predominant and generate imaginative visions of fairy tales.

In 1882 Gaudí was offered the chance to continue the building of the Catholic Church Sagrada Familia, dedicated to the Holy Family, the first stone of which was laid a year earlier. Gaudi spent the following forty years of his life in the construction of the Sagrada Familia and to this day the project is not complete, because it is totally built on private donations. It is hoped that all work will eventually be completed by 2026. It is a shame that all photos taken of the Sagrada Familia appear with visible scaffolding and large cranes in the background. I hope that someday I will see this temple complete in all its glory.

If you look at a map of Barcelona, all the streets in the center follow rectangular shapes and several avenues intersect most quarters diagonally. From the Sagrada Familia we went for a walk along Gaudi avenue which is lined with lime trees, exuding a honey like floral aroma. I will always remember Barcelona with a fond memory of the lime flower perfume which overwhelmed my strong perfume.

BarcelonaAt the end of Gaudi avenue there is a fantastic and extremely beautiful fountain with a panoramic background of another Barcelonaarchitectural masterpiece with gates and statues, the former Hospital of de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau. A hundred years ago a Catalan modernist Luis Domenech i Montaner built the complex on the site of an existing medieval hospital which dates back to 1401.

A few days should be spent in Barcelona in order to see and appreciate the
Park Guell, the Castell dels Tres Dragons, the Gothic Quarter, the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia and many other beautiful sights we saved for our next visit. In part 5 we will be visiting Montserrat, the romantic religious setting high up in the mountains.

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My car travels to Europe (day 3). France


My travels to Europe (part 3)In most countries people have a preferred way of spending their holidays. In France it seems that camping is sometimes a way of life. You can find cozy campsites with mobile homes in the mountains, along river valleys, in nature reserves, along the coast and almost all over the country you can see caravans, motor homes and tents everywhere.

Pyrenees-Orientals is a region bordered by Spain and the Pyrenees mountains, which flow right 3 France (8)down to the Mediterranean Sea. It is a favorite holiday destination not only for the French but also for many Europeans. We stayed for a few days in a camping place located close to a sandy beach called “Mari Sol” near the village of Torreilles. This is one of many family holiday places, where you can rent a small mobile home with two double bedrooms, a shower room and a kitchenette complete with table and chairs for a very reasonable price. June time this home costs about 59 euros per night, where there are actually six sleeping places as the bench in the lounge converts to another double bed.

In the camp there are many landscaped areas, where, among blooming alleys there are restaurants, shops and swimming pools with children’s play areas and water slides. I personally prefer to swim in the sea, as for me it does not compare with any swimming pool, so long as the temperature is not too cold. On the first day the sea temperature was only 18C, which is not very typical for this region as it should be around 22C. To swim in the Mediterranean Sea is also enjoyable because the water is much more salty than in other seas. In the Black Sea salinity is 18 ppm, while in the Mediterranean it is 39 ppm, only in the Red Sea is salinity slightly higher at 41 ppm. Probably some swimmers never noticed, that the water keeps you on the surface much better than in the Black Sea.

The towns of Saint-Cyprien nearby has a large port full of expensive yachts and beautiful houses, frequented by affluent tourists, whereas further east down the coast is the town of Argeles-sur-Mer, which is favoured by families as it has magnificent vast sandy beaches with evergreen waterfront, free car parks and surrounded by mountain scenery, the town also has a wonderful atmosphere, where you walk along alleyways and relax in the restaurants and which serve a great variety of Mediterranean cuisine, especially crustacean dishes.

In the town of Collioure there is an antique castle, built by the Knights Templar in 1207, then rebuilt as a royal castle.

Perpignan, the capital of the Pyrenees-Orientals in southern France, is where the Palace of the Kings of Majorca was, updated in the 17th century on the place of the high citadel of the 14th century. The town has an old-fashioned charm and in the old antique and narrow streets there are many restaurants serving my favorite dish, “Moules au Roquefort” marine mussels with Roquefort cheese sauce. They are worth a trying!


My travels to Europe (part 3)

Perpignan is located about 30 km from the sea but there is no sea aura here. Instead, you have a magnificent fountain, with coloured lights, which constantly change to create a most beautiful display after dusk. Hence we reached the end of another day on our European tour.


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My car travels to Europe (day 2). France


2 France (5)Impressionism is the art movement that was originated in France. Its purpose was to convey a glimpse of a changing world. If you are not an artist, you can still enjoy the impression conveyed in the photo. On the second day of our trip around France the scenery changed to a hilly landscape with hills, green forests and lakes, with a few fabulous medieval chateaus watching over the valleys. The French writer Honore de Balzac described the Limousin Region, which we passed through, as “The graceful coastal area of Vienne, with beautiful sloping lawns, is reminiscent of Switzerland”. The impressionist artist Auguste Renoir was born in the city of Limoges. Other 2 France (4)impressionists were to fall in love with this area later. This fact can be significant for the region, because the nature is pleasing to the eye 2 France (1)and traveling through such a beautiful place is real enjoyment!

It’s worth visiting the ancient city of Limoges for at least couple of days, as the Romans founded it in 10 BC and there is much history there!

Further on our way we passed through the extraordinarily beautiful valley of the River Lot, where the town of Cahors is situated, which gave its name to the red wine that is produced there. A bridge across the river was built in the 14th century, renovated in 1879 and now called the Devil’s Bridge. It turns out that in Europe a few ancient stone arch bridges with the same name do exist, all of whom are connected with some legend or myth. It was believed that the construction of such complicated technological structures in those days was beyond human capabilities. That’s why legends were created.

In Cahors we stopped for cup of tea in a small roadside café, where a very friendly bartender served us. Outside the café a few groups of men were playing cards at some of the tables, which for me seemed a bit unusual. It’s a very popular tradition in France like the game of Boules.

2 France (8)The Mountain scenery after Cahors, gradually changed to plains, 2 France (6)most of the roads were lined with beautiful plane trees, which shelter the driver from wind and sun. I came across many similar tree lined roads later in many parts of France.

The ancient historical town of Carcassonne is located on the route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, the settlement was known since before the Middle Ages. The original old town cited behind fortified walls on a rocky hilltop, very near the modern new town. There is a legend about the origin of Carcassonne, when in the VIII century a Lady named Carcas, led the Knight liberators and saved the town from invaders. To celebrate this people started ringing bells, hence the name “Carcas sonne”, which means “Carcas rings” in French.

2 France (19)From Carcassonne, it is only 114 km to the small village of Torreilles-sur-Mer next to the Mediterranean coast, where we next lingered for a couple of days in a mobile home camp named “Marie Sol” to enjoy swimming and take in some sunshine..

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My car travels to Europe (day 1). France


1 France (24)To take a trip to Europe by car does not need a lot of preparation. It’s enough to take the minimum of clothing required during your travel and a few things like a swimming costume and a bag of necessary items for your toilet. That’s all we prepared after booking our ferry ticket from Dover to Calais. We arrived early morning at the port of Dover and boarded the Ferry for our trip to France, Andorra, Spain, Monaco and Geneva, which lasted for 16 days. It was early June and the weather was not very nice, slightly stormy. Walking around the shop and cafes of the ferry, I felt a little dizzy. Good job that crossing the English Channel only took 90 minutes.

My car travels to Europe (Day 1)Upon landing in Calais, a short drive to the town brings you to a most beautiful City Hall and 1 France (21)Belfry with a clock and bell tower, as pretty and very similar to Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament in London. Belfries originally appeared in England in the Middle Ages to protect towns from hostile incursions and slowly started appearing all over Belgium and France. Almost every town we passed on our way had one of these landmarks. Most well known towers are listed in the World Heritage List. Also in Calais there is the beautiful Eglise de Notre-Dame ‘’The Church of Our Lady’’, where the ex President of France, Charles de Gaulle and Yvonne Vendroux were married in 1921. The watchtower is one of the oldest buildings in Calais built when it became a coastal fortress in the 13th century, after the British conquered it from the French. In the 16th century the fortress once again reverted to France, this historical fact is described in “The Two Dianna’s” by Alexander Dumas.

1 France (1)We left Calais by route A26 in the direction of Paris. In France, you can travel by Auto route which bears the A sign and are mostly with payment according to distances traveled, or you can drive along the national roads marked as D and N. We prefer the route nationals, though it takes more time due to speed limits you can enjoy passing through some fascinating places and can always make some unscheduled stops along the way to enjoy a view, or stroll around a nice town, village or castle, you can also stop at a small café with lots of character full of locals for a drink and is usually far nicer than the services café on the Auto route.

Once we reached Saint-Omer, we turned onto the D928 towards Abbeville, where in 1514 Louis XII and Mary Tudor, the daughter of King Henry VII of England was married. Then we drove along the D 901 towards Beauvais, the ancient capital of the Belgic tribe known as the Bellovaci. Later that afternoon we arrived in Paris. We did not stop in the city; instead, we carried on to Versailles, the former residence of the French kings.

1 France (12)The Palace of Versailles, which grew out of a hunting castle in the 1 France (7)days of Louis XIII and XIV, became a source of inspiration for many aristocratic houses of Europe, including the Palace of Peterhof near St. Petersburg. Many international agreements were signed in Versailles. It is worth to pay a visit to this palace, simply because of its amazing architecture. During my travels, I have visited probably more than a hundred palaces, each of them had something different which distinguished them from one another, yet, they all have many similarities, such as fine furniture and richly decorated interiors.

1 France (16)On our way to the south of France, the song «Those were the days» was playing on the radio by the station “Nostalgie». The Welsh singer Mary Hopkins sang this hit, which was written by an American musician, which was vaguely translated from a Russian folk song and produced by Paul McCartney of the Beatles. When in France, I love listening to French music, I find it melodious and meaningful. We took much longer than we expected as the map we had was not very clear and the road markings were a little confusing but we finally found the right way oriented the old fashion way by the sun.

1 France (2)Finally, we headed towards Orleans on the D20. Most roads around Orleans are laid in straight lines, since the Romans were the ones that built them. It was now very hot, with sun, trees and green fields surrounding us!

If you ever get hungry in France make sure it is not the wrong time, as between 2 and 5 pm everyone is having a siesta, apart from McDonald’s nobody else is open. I am not crazy about McDonald’s, preferring to eat a French baguette or a croissant with French cheeses.

We passed by the town of Orleans built by Celtic tribes, having visited there four years ago. The city is famous for the legend of Joan of Ark (‘’The Maid of Orleans’’). There is also a very beautiful cathedral in the center of town built in the Gothic style. Generally in France every 1 France (20)town has a religious building, most of them have survived to the present day, many churches and abbeys were destroyed during French revolution 1789 and World War II. During the religious wars Orleans was the center of Calvinism.

1 France (18)Orleans is located in the Loire Valley, where since the days of the Roman Empire grapes were cultivated in vineyards and residences of kings and aristocratic families were built here during the middle Ages and the Renaissance. Many Chateaus are visible from the highways and roads. One beautiful old place we passed on our way was the Castle of La Ferte-Saint-Aubin.1 France (19)

The first 630 km of our journey had been completed. After spending the night in the town of Vierzon we turned off the D20 and drove the rest of the way along the A20 to Chateauroux, the birthplace of the famous French actor Gerard Depardieu. Falling asleep on my first night in France, I felt a very favorable aura of spiritual comfort. Or maybe it was just the mood of the summer holiday?

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