Thursday, June 2, 2016

Whistle Stops: Pézenas, Girona & Andorra!

We wish we could have gone to every place on every postcard on this leg of our trip!

Michael here! After a nine days in Aix, it was time for the Nomads to once again, hit the road. This time we boarded the train heading west to Montpelier, where we changed trains for the smaller town of Beziers. From there Patou (Patty), a friend of our host picked us up and drove us the final 30 km to the small village of Pezenas, population 6,000. Pezenas is in the heart of the Languedoc-Roussilon wine region, and home to one of Frances most impressive Saturday markets. Debbie was excited about that!

Every street in the perfectly preserved village looked like this!
You might be wondering, why Pezenas? Well, here's the story.

Back in February, 2015 the New York Times ran a rather lengthy piece about our travels. The writer, Steven Kurutz did a great job of capturing our story. We had no idea of what would happen as a result of the coverage, but as it turns out, thousands of people visited our blog and we heard from hundreds of readers from all over the world who told us repeatedly they were inspired by our story.

One of them was Louise, an Airbnb host who lives in Geneva but has a gite in Pezenas that she has transformed from a 17th Century communal bakery with rooms above it to a luxurious home that includes two rental apartments. The interior was a perfect blend of ancient and modern styles, and the original wood fired ovens are still intact in the basement. Here is what she said in her email:

I wanted to get in touch with you to say how much I enjoyed the article and how, in return for the joy you seem to be bringing to so many, I would love to offer both of you a week at my Airbnb gite in Pezenas in the Languedoc-Roussilon, "on the house".


The sunny roof deck. Be sure and go to the link to see this fabulous house.
Needless to say, we were excited when we got her email with this generous offer but unfortunately at the time we didn't have plans to be in the South of France anytime in the near future. We thanked Louise and said maybe we could work it in when we returned the following spring.

Another day, another fabulous French market.
Well, as you can see, we were able to take up her offer a year later. We contacted Louise. She made room for us on her calendar and we started making plans to visit Pezenas and it turned out to be a great decision. It was one of the loveliest Airbnbs we have stayed in on our entire trip. The house is called Porte 22 and you can search for that online and see several ways you can book it. Here's the Airbnb link: https://www.airbnb.ca/rooms/3637437 And the location, while a bit off the tourist track was perfect for reaching the sea, the lavender fields and wine tasting galore.

Debbie in the dream kitchen. We ate well this week.
The oopy goopy, but very delicious banana bread. All the crusty edges were the best!
Here are the dishes I was left with. Luckily, it was worth it.
We had a wonderful week enjoying the fresh food market, the Museum of Doors, shopped, walked, read and played games. The gourmet kitchen gave Debbie the excuse to cook at home every night and bake her famous Nasty Banana Bread. It also gave me the chance to wash the nastier than usual baking pans. But it was all worth it because the Banana Bread was delicious - even though it bubbled over and didn't really rise. It was sort of a dense, caramelized rendition that probably cannot be recreated. Still, she had fun playing in the kitchen.

Our generous host Louise in the middle with Kama and Debbie.
Our host Louise and her good friend Kama arrived the day before we left so we were were able to thank her in person for a wonderful week in her fabulous home in a  French village we would have not discovered otherwise.

On the road again! Thank you Louise for this great photo - we love it.
The river that cuts through the center of Girona flanked by colorful houses.
We caught the bus back to Beziers where we boared a train heading to Barcelona for our next stop - the beautiful city of Girona, Spain. Those familiar with northwest corner of Spain will know that Girona is the capital of Catalonia, the region that has been seeking independence from Spain for many years. Their first language is not Spanish but Catalan and the people are proud to fly the Catalan flag from balconies and roof-tops across the city.

Girona is a beautiful city - and home to many Tour de France riders during the off season. 
The most common pictures you will see of Girona are the sunny ochre and rose-colored houses that flank the Onyar River. Sports fans like me know Girona because American cyclists like George Hincapie, Tyler Hamilton and Lance Armstrong made Girona their home during the off-season while training for the Tour de France.

Hello from your Senior Nomads!
With our hosts on the deck. They were really great people to spend time with.
Our Airbnb in Girona was in stark contrast to the 17th Century dwelling in Pezenas. For our short three day stay, we were perched on the 10th floor of a modern apartment building with 270 degree views that overlooked the city and nearby mountains. Our hosts lived on the same floor right next door to us and they were welcoming and wonderful. Here's the link: https://www.airbnb.ie/rooms/6229018

The view from our apartment looking towards the mountains and our next destination, Andorra.
When they learned that our host in Aix-en-Provence had called the newspaper and arranged a story about us, Narcis and Teresa were not to be outdone. By day #2 they asked if we were available to do an interview with the local newspaper. By day #3, the reporter was sitting at the dining room table of our Airbnb interviewing us. The reporter was a young woman who was interning with the El Punt Avui. She did a great job and hopefully got a nice peice for her portfolio!
Every host's style is different, Narcis & Teresa had a place for every thing and everything in it's place.
From our apartment we could see the train station right below us so when it was time to move on, all we had to do was take the elevator to the ground floor and walk two blocks to catch the train to Barcelona. But that was not our final destination. Instead, we headed north into the Pyrennes Mountains to the tiny micro-state of Andorra. Again for just a few days, but I have always wanted to visit Andorra. One of the reasons is, not surprisingly, sports related.

ANDOOOOORA! This is the reason we wanted to come here - to salute the little country that could.
If you have ever watched the Parade of Nations at the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games, you will remember that the athletes and coaches from each country enter the stadium behind one of their athletes carrying their national flag. Of course there are the big countries with hundreds of athletes like Germany, France, Russia and the USA but I have always been intrigued when tiny Andorra, who often enters first after Greece marching with their handful of athletes.

So, when we decided to go to the south of France I suggested to Debbie we make a detour to Andorra and I was happy when she said it sounded good to her. Before we went, we checked and found out that Rick Steves (the European travel guru from Seattle) had a video online about the five Micro-Countries in Europe: Vatican City, Monaco, Andorra, Lichtenstein and San Marino.

The Micro-Countries. We've now been to three out of five.
We had already visited the first two and after watching the video we were excited to be adding Andorra to the list - and of course adding another country. Our current total is 48.

The bus ride from Barcelona to Andorra de Vella (that's the name of the capital city) was a short three hour trip on a comfortable bus. It was a beautiful day and the views were stunning, especially as we got closer and closer to Andorra and into the mountains.

The view from high above Andorra de Vella as we drove along the twisting roads.
We couldn't find an Airbnb in the center of the village in our price range so we opted for sharing a room rather than an entire home. https://www.airbnb.ie/rooms/7742165 We got super lucky because our hosts turned out to be perfect for us. Monique and Henri are French but live in Andorra. They are about our age and have sailed around the world for four years so we had lots in common. We hit it off in the first few hours and by the 2nd day, we were part of the family, even celebrating a granddaughter's 5th birthday with the rest of the family around the dining room table. They even took us out for a day to tour the countryside. What a beautiful country.

Our fabulous hosts and new friends Monique and Henri.
After just three short days we jumped back on the bus back to Barcelona to catch a flight to our next destination.  I'll pick up the story there when we leave Spain for 5 weeks in one of our favorite countries - Croatia.

Thanks for following along,

Michael Campbell
On behalf of the Senior Nomads

6 comments :

  1. Wonderful! You two are becoming quite famous, it seems. :-)

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  3. Great blog, but slightly surprised to hear Pezenas called a "village"!? It's definitely a town (the former capital of Languedoc in fact). Anyway, very glad to hear that you enjoyed it. We are big fans of it too - beautiful place.

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  4. Great blog, but slightly surprised to hear Pezenas called a "village"!? It's definitely a town (the former capital of Languedoc in fact). Anyway, very glad to hear that you enjoyed it. We are big fans of it too - beautiful place.

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  5. I enjoy reading your blog. Was wondering if there were any challenges you faced so I can learn from it.

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