Carnival-Sant Feliu de Guixols-Catalonia

From Girona we were heading South to Barcelona since Lisa was flying back to the UK from there at the end of March. So we had a good three weeks to get there, which would have allowed us to walk at a leisurely pace – that is we had a long time to while away.

There was a place that Lisa had very fond memories of on the Costa Brava called Tossa del Mar. She had first visited this small fishing village when she was six years old and later when she took her daughters, this was a must visit location and somewhere I had never been. Our first stop after Girona was a lovely town on the coast North of Tossa, called Sant Feliu de Guíxols.

Sant Feliu is quite a large town, we denote by the fact they have a Lidl, but it also has an old historic centre, the small autocaravan aire is located a few minutes’ walk from the the old monastery which serves as the museum and tourist information. The Benedictine monastery, although in semi-ruin is a good example of the town’s medieval architecture. At the Plaça del Mercat. a fruit and vegetable market takes place every morning and the Plaça also has a fine fish market, full of locally caught fresh fish. On Sundays the weekly market takes place on the Plaça and along the Passeig del Mar with a range of stalls including cheap clothes well-liked by the locals.

To the South of Sant Feliu, the Costa Brava starts to earn its name, the road rises steeply and winding up onto clifftops where it meanders around many little bays with coves surrounded by pines with rocky or fine sand beaches. Here the coast becomes more rugged with forests of pine, oak, and cork trees and is an excellent place for determined cyclists.

We arrived here at the start of the Carnival weekend and were lucky enough to be able to watch the festivities and the parades. This is something that the local area takes very seriously, albeit with a light-hearted and joyous outlook. The floats for the parades along with their entourage were quite a scene and numerous, the themes varied from widely: African tribes, celebration of honey and bees, Neptune and the sea, Venetian masquerade ball, Candy Crush, the list just went on and on. The costumes were superb, and each member of a float had the self-same costume, hours of planning and preparation must go into this single weekend. The costumes were very good too, excellent workmanship was on show all round.

Ultimately the African tribes won best in Carnival and we left with wonderful memories of a lovely place to visit.

January Summary

Click on the map for an expanded view of the route

January began in Germany, in Wiehl (pronounced veal) to be precise, spending a great couple of weeks with Juergen & Lisa’s sister.  During our stay, we had plenty of walks in the countryside and more saunas than in the previous 12 months!

Shortly after my birthday (12th January if you want to send presents), we left Wiehl and headed South, leaving a few days before a massive snowfall and high winds brought northern Germany to standstill. We wound our way down south, past Koblenz, through Luxembourg followed by the Jura region of France  which is close to the Swiss border.  South of Lyon, the Mediterranean slowly appeared as olive trees, palm trees, soft fruit trees and vineyards were becoming more abundant.  The weather was also improving and we were feeling distinctly warmer in the sun.

We braved the city of Marseille and it’s horrendous road infrastructure!  Next destination was Le Beausset, where we spent time with Lisa’s friends Penny and John.  We had a wonderful time helping them in the garden, building bonfires and pruning olive trees.  The weather was kind and we ate lunch on the terrace, which has magnificent views towards the valley below and the limestone cliffs in the distance.  Afterwards, we went to Sommieres and Boissieres a really interesting medieval village where we met up with Jo and Gaeton, some more of Lisa’s friends!  We then headed to the Carmargue and the weather turned colder, more dreary and windier. It was in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, we encountered more severe winds causing us for the first time to move in the middle of the night because we felt so uncomfortable and very little sleep was had, not to mention, Lisa was having a panic attack!

By the end of January, we had settled into a pattern of starting out mid-morning, buying a baguette, stopping for lunch about 1pm and then finding our next place to stay before nightfall. We continued travelling very slowly towards Spain, with each day’s journey becoming shorter and shorter.  Our last town before the Spanish border was Le Boulou, where we spent a quiet night opposite the local cemetery.  Au revoir France, Ola Spain!

 

Leaving Germany

A small spot at Ennery

We left Cologne shortly after 11am and filled our tank ready for a long journey. The roads in Germany are brilliant and the motorways are free. Our intention was to get to somewhere around Metz in France. This meant quite a lot of driving for the day, through Germany, Luxembourg and then France. We missed the Mosel valley, which was a pity, but the weather was not conducive to sightseeing, we were on a parallel motorway. We found a place in Ennery just north of Metz, using Parking4Night.com with a parking spot just big enough for our van overlooking the Mosel river. This was a good spot and we spent a quiet night here.

Empty car park near in Vesoul

In the morning we left with our target to get to Vesoul, I drove the first part of the journey up to lunch and then Lisa drove for the rest of the way. This works well for us because Lisa is not great at navigating so its better that I navigate at the end when we are trying to find our place for the night. The weather today included, wind rain and some sunshine. In the late afternoon we arrived at a very large car park in Saint-Valbert in Vesoul, this had a motorhome service point and only one motorhome – us! This car park is not very scenic – however it is next to a fairly large lake, about an hour’s walk around. The forecast told us it was going to rain very heavily and be very windy, so I took the dog out for a walk, but didn’t get all the way round the lake as the ominous clouds were drawing in. The rain lashed down just as we arrived back at the van.

The spot was quiet, unfortunately the weather wasn’t and again the wind gave us a less than restful night.

The Sauna

Today we went to the Sauna in Olpe, just me and Juergen. We left at 13:00 and arrived there about 30m later. They gave us locker keys and let us in, you pay on exit here, as you bill food and drinks to your locker tag. Not knowing the conventions here I followed Juergen’s example as best I could, I’ll document what I found here, dear reader, in case you are in Germany and want to got to one of these places. There are many around – just Google for “sauna” or “wellness” near where you are to find them, as you don’t need to be a member you can spend just a morning or afternoon pampering yourself. This post is devoid of photos – for obvious reasons!

My equipment: two towels, one bathrobe, flip-flops and shower gel.

We showered before entering the sauna area. If you have not experienced a Nordic or German sauna you may be surprised that it is mixed and everybody goes naked. It’s a very liberating experience.

This place had many saunas and was extremely busy with people of all complexions. We first went into a rose water sauna, which did have a smell of roses. Juergen said this is where you typically saw the prettiest women, but sadly there was only the two of us in there. Another piece of useful sauna etiquette is to make sure that whether you are lying or sitting you are always on your towel, even your feet. We spent about 15m in this one and then came out and went outside, here there was a small open-air heated pool that was oozing steam, not because it was particularly hot, but the weather outside was hostile, wet, cold and windy. We had a cold shower before we got in – this was unpleasant as I was not yet hot enough – so I made a dash for the pool where we spent 5 minutes slowly swimming back and forth. Then it was back inside to wait for Stefan and Philip – while waiting we gave our feet hot and cold baths, this is supposed to help the circulation – it only seemed to make my feet red. When Stefan and Philip arrived we went back in the rose water sauna – after about 15m we left, braved the weather outside and went into another sauna – the panorama sauna. This one was on the first floor, accessed up some steps and unusually, for a sauna, had windows which overlooked the lake, this is a big old lake but from the windows you could only see a small portion and the outside swimming pool, closed for the season as the weather was miserable so was the view. Then it was time for beer – how I love Germany!

We went to the restaurant, on the first floor of the main building, and 4 weiss beers were ordered. Stefan is not so comfortable with English so I spent most of my time talking with Philip, we talked about how the dental service works in the UK, children, his background in the Netherlands, beer, Brexit, etc.

After beer we went down for another sauna, this time it was a timed sauna, which was very full by the time we got in there, so we had to sit at the back – this is also the highest and hottest position. At the designated time a woman came in and she then poured scented water on the stones, after which she then used a towel in a windmill motion to circulate the moist hot air around. The air temperature drops a little and the humidity goes up a lot – and you really notice that it gets so much hotter. I believe that this is because humid air carries more heat – anyway its easy to feel. The process took her four minutes – she then repeated the process again, phew now it was getting really hot some people started to move downwards to the cooler parts. She did this again another two times – four in all, by the end I was feeling VERY hot. When it ended most people left quickly, but I stayed in with Philip – to finish having our eggs hard boiled – he is a hard man. We chatted for a bit, when we exited we went straight into an ice-cold plunge pool. I was still hot when I came out so I also had a cold shower (all of this was happening outside in the rain).

Now for some more beer – this time was also ordered food to go with the beer. Since we were due to be eating when we got back, Juergen and I shared a great salad which contained strips of beef, sautéed mushrooms and an excellent Balsamic dressing. Stefan and Philip both had calamari salads – ours looked much better and tasted lovely. The accompaniment was another four pints of Weiss Beer. By this point it was nearly time to leave so we decided one one more sauna – this last one was a Finnish wood fired sauna, it was drier than the others. There was one person in there when we got in and it was only after some time that I realised it was a woman – I had thought it was a man – strange how some people look with their clothes off. We exited the sauna after our designated 15 minutes – you time your sauna using one of the numerous sand-clocks dotted around the walls of the sauna, just chose one that has finished, flip it over and then keep an eye on it, it will be marked in five minute units.

After our last sauna, we had a proper shower, dressed, paid and headed out. We drove back, picking up some bread on the way and found that Becki and Lisa had cooked a wonderful lasagne with salad. What a wonderful day!

Cologne

In the afternoon Lisa, Becki and Juergen and I drove to Cologne which is about a 30 minute drive from Wiehl.  Juergen and I split up from the girls and went into the Cathedral, it was free to get in and of course it was packed, there are on average 20,000 visitors a day! The Dom (this is what they call it here) was pretty incredible both inside and out. The outside is still a filthy brown black from the industrial revolution. Juergen says they are not going to clean it, which is a shame as I think it would look incredible if were cleaned, much like the old buildings of London.

They have been repairing the building over the years by completely replacing whole sections of the building, in this photo you can see one of the stonemasons working on a replacement. These new sections are in the original light stone colour, so the building now looks a little patchwork. The flying buttresses were amazing as they had two levels and the two spires are higher by 30ft than the spire at Salisbury, but Salisbury only took 40 years to complete this building took more like 200! The inside is as spectacular, the Cathedral was originally built in order to house the relics of the Three Kings. There are huge expanses of glass and the “swallow’s nest” organ built into the gallery appears to hang magically half way up one of the walls – in all a true Gothic masterpiece.

Juergen, Carlos and some Cologne caviar

My photos of the Dom do not do it justice, hence I’ve not included any. We then looked at some of the Roman ruins, in an underground car park, it seems that everywhere they put up a new building they find Roman ruins. Cologne was established as a Roman Colonia (colony) by  Agrippina the Younger, Nero’s mother was born here. We walked down to the Rhine which is a big wide river here at Cologne and has in the past been prone to flooding. It originates in Lake Constance in Switzerland and comes out in the North Sea at Rotterdam and is one of Europe’s great rivers. After a while we headed back away from the river through a Christmas market, still doing business, and into a beer hall (http://www.gilden-im-zims.de/en/). This was a great place – the beer glasses were small and thin, once you emptied your glass, they would come round and just replace it with a freshly poured beer, so you just kept drinking and drinking! Juergen ordered a local speciality – Kölsche Kaviar – Cologne Caviar, a traditional food speciality consisting of blood sausage, served with onions, German mustard and a bread roll. In this case the sausage is combined with flour and is not black, but a reddish brown, with a few large white specks. In combination with the bread, onions and mustard and the beer, it was quite palatable, good even, but eating it on its own was difficult as it was way too rich.

Becki, Natalie and Lisa

On leaving we headed into the centre of Cologne to meet up with the girls. Natalie, Becki’s daughter, had joined them and after some discussion, we decided to head to a local Italian restaurant which Natalie had suggested.  Natalie and Juergen work in Cologne and Natalie now has a flat and lives there. At the Italian we sat at a high table, Becki needed an extra stool to stop her falling off the bench seat – she isn’t the world’s tallest person! Natalie and Lisa had Risotto, I had Penne Arrabiata, Juergen had a Pepperoni pizza and Becki who was not feeling hungry had a small starter. My dish was very good with plenty of Jalapeños and red chillis. Juergen and I drank more beer – something the Italian waiter was not impressed with, whereas the girls were cultured and had wine. At the end of the meal we asked for the bill, it was €90 and they only took cash (I hate these places – all too common in Germany) fortunately Lisa had cash on her.

Natalie went home and we drove back to Wiehl.  It was a lovely day.