Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Catalan Pyrenees

When Diana told me that her cousin Carol, who's also originally from Bogota, and her husband (from Spain) invited us to go with them to their mountain house in the Pyrenees, I couldn't wait. The two weeks seemed to take forever but the big Friday evening came and we made the two-plus-hour drive from Barcelona with them up towards the intersection of the French, Spanish, and Andorran border. If you're familiar with the southern California mountains, think of a drive like going to Baldy and not like Summit (in other words, nice and easy!).

We got there about 9pm, which was just in time for a finger-lickin'-good dinner over at their friends' place. I have more than a few stand-out memories from dinner that night (amazing food, cool folks, the husband used to live near Washington, DC) but what I probably will remember for a long time was...the water.

Yes, the water. 

I asked for a glass of water and they told me "to try the tap water". Let me just say that, after living in Germany, the tap water's got to be pretty damn good if it's gonna' compete. Well, the water that flowed out of the golden goose faucet was the best damn water I've ever had even when compared to the best bottled waters. They told me that it comes almost straight from the mountain behind the house, but it wasn't until the next morning when I woke up and saw this amazing scene from our friends' place that I understood:

Carol and Juan's place is located in a large valley area called the Cerdanya that's ringed by Spain, France, and Andorra. Their scenic little village sits down on the valley floor with snow-covered mountain peaks staring down.

(Um, can I just mention how f'n lucky I am to get to do some of this stuff? Look at these photos!)

Anyway, we went for a walk around the 'hood in the morning and I saw this guy turning the soil in front of his house. He must have been like 80 years old but he was workin' it. The scene with the old house, the old guy, the small farm, the valley out below, and the snowy peaks up above was amazing.

Like I said, the valley is shared mostly between France and Spain but a part of it touches the small country of Andorra. Although there's three different countries, you'd never know it as all you see is Catalan flags flying everywhere. Even when we went into Font Romeu, France, to do some food shopping (it's the closest town), there were 99% Catalan flags flying and almost no French flags. You can sort of see one at the left end of the building below (of course there was no wind when I was taking the photos):

The Catalan Pyrenees really comes alive during the winter, from what I've been told, as folks from the three countries go skiing on the weekends. During the summer, it's fairly quiet and kinda' nice to be able to explore a bunch of old and new tiny villages. On Saturday afternoon, we visited Bellver, which is on the Spanish side, and walked up and down the cobble streets and ate some of the best and cheapest ice cream that I've ever had while in Spain.

Note the Catalan-independence flag hanging off the third level of this building in the town of Bellver, Spain:

After another amazing dinner and wine-drinking session, we woke up Sunday morning and went to Puigcerda (pooj-sair-DA), which is also in Spain and is build up around a large lake in its center. Amazing view of the mountains beyond the lake and some of the town of Puigcerda:

On Sundays the town has a farmers market where there's all kinds of food, beverages, and "stuff" to buy. I like these types of things because it's a great place to people watch and I loved how there were the sounds of French, Spanish, and Catalan everywhere. (Yeah, that's another snowy mountain past the end of the street.)

The highlight of the market (for me) was this woman who was selling homemade vermouth. I got hooked on vermouth by our good friend Vladimir who used to take us to a local Poble Sec place for Sunday-morning vermouth drinking. Juan buying a couple of plastic jugs of homemade vermouth:

Probably the only disappointment of the whole trip, if you can call it that, was that we didn't have time to go to Andorra for a quick visit. It would have been another country for me to add to my growing travel map but, oh well, there's always next time!

A big-ole' thank you and hugs to Carol, Juan, Ana Maria, and Juan Camillo for taking us for an amazing Catalan Pyrenees adventure and opening their home to us (and a nice family shot):

I can't wait to go back up to that area again, hopefully next time for some snowboarding at the close-enough-to-throw-a-rock-at El Molino resort! Another reason to get that driver's license!

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