Though shalt back to France!
It was inevitable I guess that once we got back from our travels that my interest in finishing this blog would wane, but it's important that I finish this off even if it is now months after the fact.
So we left Lourdes and headed on the motorway north. We were now running quite short on time. It was now Wednesday and our friends would be heading back to the UK on Friday and we had about four hundred kilometres to cover. I felt a pang of regret as we sailed past Toulouse, one of my favourite French cities. There was no time to dilly-dally. Sharon messaged me on the road to ask if we could make to Gourdon for lunch. That was just a little too ambitious. I predicted we would arrive by about two pm but we really didn't make it till nearly three. It was wonderful to catch up with Sharon and Iain again. The last time we'd caught up was in Paris in 2006.
Sharon's parents had retired from the UK to a little village of Milhac in the Dordogne. Like the rest of the region, it was beautiful, green and very rural. The Dordogne is covered in tiny, quaint villages and walled towns, all hidden away in amongst the mountains and forests. This was also one of the main battle grounds of the Hundred Years War between England and France (14th century) and there are castles on every strategic hilltop. It seems like a world lost in time.
Sharon's parents kindly put us up for two nights and we all had a great time. Much drinking was done, along with much lamenting. It was all over too soon. They had to fly back to the UK and we had to drive back to Barcelona to catch a flight to Milan, so we bid adieu on the Friday morning and headed south.
We stopped for lunch at Cahors, a charming medieval city famous for it's 14th century bridge, the Pont Valentre.
We also visited the interesting Cathedral St-Etienne. From the outside this 12th century catherdral is an unimpressive jumble of styles, partly Romanesque, partly Gothic. Inside however it is notable for it's twin cupolas (domes). They look distinctly Mediterranean and out of place so far north but then Cahors has an interesting history.
In the 9th century Cahors was the northern most outpost of the Emirate of Al-Andalus. Few people realise that the Muslim 'Spanish' Emirate covered far more than just Spain - it stretched as far north as Bordeaux, here in central France, and as far east as Nice. But this really was the outer edge and within forty or fifty years the Muslims had given up and pulled back to the Pyrennes, just as we were doing right now. It was a long, long drive. We passed the magnificent walled city of Carcassone and stopped to take a quick photo. We crossed the border near the Costa Brava. It's hard to think of Spain and France as enemies, but the line of Spanish fortifications along the border suggested a difficult history.
During all our travels we'd almost never visited the sea (maybe Gdansk counts) so we decided to stop in one of the beach front towns of the Costa Brava. Now we were in a race with the sun. It was a near run thing, we arrived in the little beach town of LLanfranc just on sunset. It was the end of the season and things were very quiet. Even so, rooms were still fairly expensive. That night we sat at beachfront bar and ate a wonderful Italian meal - not quite the way to finish up our Spanish adventure. That night we packed, leaving behind all the surplus junk we'd been carrying in the car. The next morning we were up early and stopped in Girona for breakfast. Girona had a pleasant enough old city, but it was nothing like the 'well preserved medieval city' that the Lonely Planet described. Sometimes I wonder if the writers have in fact visited all the cities they write about.
Although we'd timed our journey to get us to Barcelona with plenty of time to spare, things didn't quite go to plan. The closer we got to Barcelona, the more traffic we encountered and the slower things got. As we entered the outskirts of the sprawling city we suddenly realised we had no idea where the airport was and there was a moment of panic as we'd not seen any highway signs. We came across them eventually, but it made for a very tense drive. We arrived at the airport only an hour before the flight - just enough time to drop the car, check in and board the plane. It was time to say goodbye Spain and hello Italy!