It’s that time of year. The days are getting shorter and darker as winter steadily approaches. Don’t get me wrong I’m really looking forward to Christmas and the festivities that go along with it (the streets are already aglow with wonderful twinkling lights). But as the days are grey and rainy here in Amsterdam and I prepare for my first “proper” winter, I can’t help but think of escaping. Sometimes I have a fleeting sense of wanting to turn back the clock - just one more week of blue sky and soaking up the sunshine! It’s probably normal (tell me it is!) and as the year winds down most of us are looking forward to a rest and relax. Since I’ve done a lot of moving around this year I’ve committed myself to staying still for a while - pottering around in my first real home in almost 8 months since my partner and I uprooted our entire lives for adventure and change traveling the world. It’s blissful to do all those things I once took for granted - framing photographs, buying knick knacks, drinking endless cups of tea staring at the canal below my window and getting to know our beautiful new city on bicycles.
Every so often when I hear of exotic travel plans or visits abroad my heart gets restless and I get that wonderful feeling of anticipation. Looking at Pia’s amazing pictures of Canada this week reminded me of the deep connection to nature I felt in the Pyrenees mountains earlier this year. For me this was a truly magical place and I can’t wait to go back and explore more. Right now whenever I miss the smell of fresh air and greener than green trees I simply take a wander down memory lane...
“I’ve got a great idea”. Sometimes my day begins with this sentence. I’m lucky I’ve got a great partner (thanks Al) who embraces my sometimes-ambitious. borderline crazy plans. And so this is the way it began in Figueres, northern Spain. We were enjoying a leisurely few days in the birthplace of Salvador Dali with our new found freedom in a hire car. “How about a little roadtrip?” I suggested, “Its not far to the border of France”. In order to get back to Spain and return the car we somehow decided to do a roundtrip and include the Pyrenees Mountains. It certainly was a lot of driving - we drove up to France into the Pyrenees from the French side, onto the Spanish side where we stopped for 2 nights before returning to base camp at Figueres. Phew! But the fresh air, the countryside, the mountains.. aah it was bliss.
One of the nice things about not being in a hurry is being able to detour along the way. Once we got over the border into France we stumbled upon many gorgeous villages. Being right on the border of France and Spain meant most were bi-lingual and this transpired to food as well with a lovely mix of french-spanish cuisine. We took the opportunity to gather supplies along the way and had a wonderful impromptu picnic of fresh bread, cheese, nuts, cured meats and juicy nectarines to finish. Delicious!
It was a long and winding road to the top of the Pyrenees Mountains. It really felt like we were in a fairytale winding up and up and up to the peaks above us. No Jack and the Beanstalk at the top but the sense of exhilaration was well worth it. The crisp fresh air and mountains dotted with villages made me feel instantly relaxed.
In our long term travels people often asked me where we stayed or how we managed to budget for that many months away. It mostly depends on two things 1. availability last minute 2. the type of traveler you are. This wasn’t a backpacker trip for us and so we mostly did a mix of small hotels or pensions and the occasional splurge with a last minute price. For this mini-trip I wanted something romantic and cozy and was lucky enough to stumble upon a small hotel - formerly an art nouvea mansion on Pulgcerda Lake (in the village of Pulgcerda). It was absolutely blissful and we had a luxurious stay eating, drinking local wine, spa baths and wandering leisurely around the beautiful lake right on our doorstep.
Of course the point of driving all this way wasn’t to stay inside so off we went exploring. I’ve often heard people describe the feeling of peace and spirituality in destinations like Machu Picchu (I’m dying to go here!) and I can’t say its exactly the same but I felt such a sense of happiness and freedom high up in the Pyrenees mountains. We found countless charming villages and took long invigorating hikes along pristine streams. The Pyrenees for me was one of those places that puts things in perspective and reminded me its important to stop and enjoy the moment. Sometimes there is a bigger world out there than the worry and day to day that fills our lives. Its just making the time to see it!
text and photography by cath conroy.