Spanish Pyrenees

Torla - gateway to Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park

In her new job Sandy has a lot of interactions with the regions. Her boss likes to have staff meetings in each of the regions at least once a year. This fall one was scheduled for Barcelona, Spain. Even though I lived in Europe for two and a half years I never had been to Barcelona. So I was excited when Sandy suggested that I come along on her trip. She figured that she could take a week off beforehand for us to travel before her meetings. Sounded good to me.

One possibility I looked at was the Alps. But if we flew into Barcelona, that meant another flight to and from a city closer to the Alps. They are spectacular mountains and I spent a lot of time hiking and climbing in them back in the eighties when I lived in the UK. I would have loved a chance to go back there, but Sandy thought it was too much trouble to get there. Next year for sure.

My next suggestion was to tour the Pyrenees mountains. I had never been to the Pyrenees although I had always wanted to go. Somehow when I lived in Europe I always ended up going to the Alps instead. So this trip was going to be my chance to explore the Pyrenees.

There actually isn't much published in English on the range. I had an old guidebook that I had bought in the UK back in the eighties on hikes and climbs. I used that and some web research to come up with some places to visit.

Ordesa Hotel in Torla Spain

Our first destination in the mountains was the town of Torla, Spain. It is a small village that is just outside of Ordesa and Monte Perdito National Park, the largest park on the Spanish side of the range. Private cars are not allowed beyond the village. To enter the park, you leave your car and take a bus into the park. Using Google and TripAdvisor I found a hotel that looked reasonable and made reservations.

Since we were scheduled to arrive in Barcelona early in the morning, our plan was to rent a car and drive up to Torla immediately. It would be a four hour drive. Tough after an overnight flight but it seemed really inefficient to stop in Barcelona overnight. That changed a few days before our departure. We got a message from United Airlines. Hurricane Earl was scheduled to hit the East Coast and air travel was expected to be seriously disrupted. Since we were traveling through Newark airport, that meant us. We were rebooked from Chicago though Brussels to reach Barcelona. Now we would be arriving late afternoon though. I spent a morning calling our hotels (we had made arrangements on the French side for later in the week too) to slide our itinerary back a day. Since they were small family hotels the people spoke very little English. It was tough to explain how we were being delayed a day by a hurricane! Our new plan was to stay at a hotel near the Barcelona airport before heading out of town the next morning. With the change in travel plans our flight to Europe was uneventful. At the Barcelona airport we couldn't find the stop for the hotel shuttle so we ended up taking a taking a taxi and paying twenty Euros. The hotel was near the airport but not near anything else. It was fine. We had dinner and went to bed early. We were pretty tired after the flight over. I was up by four am and finished reading my book waiting for Sandy to wake up.

Sandy hiking in the Ordesa Valley

Next morning we took the shuttle back to the airport and rented a car there. Then we drove up to Torla, Spain, our first destination. We had regular maps, Google Maps and directions, and Sandy even got the NeverLost GPS system with the rental car. Of course none of our data sources agreed with any other, and none of them agreed with the highway signs. The GPS was particularly annoying (and wrong). At one point we were driving on a road on the side of a canyon. The GPS lady said "in 100 meters, turn right". Yeah, right. That would be right off a cliff. She was obviously trying to kill us.

Somehow we made good progress, although I'm not sure if it was because of or inspite of all of our high tech navigational information. We finally ran into a problem in the town of Monzon. There was construction and a detour sign. Oh oh. We followed the detour which sent us through a maze of side streets in the town. But there were no more detour signs. Finally we pulled over to study our maps and directions to see if we could figure out how to get back on our route. Unfortunately the resolution on our maps wasn't good enough to show us the detail we needed. While we were sitting there wondering what to do, all of a sudden the GPS lady spoke up and said "in 500 meters, turn right on highway such and such". She hadn't been right up to this point but we were desperate. What the heck, we drove another half kilometer and sure enough, there was a junction with a sign for the next town that we were going to. We were back on course. Thanks GPS lady. We had one more navigation error that resulted in us backtracking a couple of miles. But eventually we made it to Torla.

I was a little nervous when we checked into our hotel. The lobby of the hotel definitely had a musty smell. But when we got to the room it was nice. Breakfasts were good, we had a nice bottle of wine one evening in the bar, and the hotel even had an entire room in the basement dedicated as a library.

Pyrenees Peaks emerge from the clouds after a rainstorm

We arrived in the early afternoon. There was still a lot of daylight left and the weather was pretty good so after checking in we grabbed our hiking stuff and headed back to town. There is a large parking lot where people leave their cars and take a bus into the national park. We bought our tickets and got on the bus. The ride in was impressive. The canyon is spectacular. The place the bus drops you off is a major trailhead. You can hike straight up and over the Pyrenees crest via the Breche du Roland. It is a difficult hike, but you can make it to Gavarnie France (our next destination) in a day of walking. Driving around would take us four hours later in the week. And we would hike up to the Breche du Roland from the French side.

After about an hour of hiking Sandy was really bothered by her boots. We decided to head back. No sense getting blisters and not being able to hike for the rest of the week.

Torla was a really neat town. All of the buildings were in an old fashioned brick style. There were some tourists but it wasn't overwhelmed by them. Sandy found an outdoor shop and bought a new pair of boots for hiking. We found a pizza place that was really good. We went there two days in a row. They had one odd item on their menu, "brave potatoes", that I just couldn't resist since I am from Idaho. Turned out to be a plate of potato wedges just like you would get at a lot of restaurants in the US. They did have really good pizza though. We ate dinner there one night and had lunch there the next day. Both times we ended up with too much to eat. Good food though.

Catching the bus into the national park

We got to Torla on monday, which was Labor Day in the US. That was important because BSU had a Really Big Game that night against Virginia Tech. The game was at 8pm eastern time which translated to 2 am in Spain. I set my alarm and was up with Sandy's PC booted up and connected to our SlingBox before the game started. I watched the whole game (which was awesome) although Sandy konked out about half way though. Amazing though. In the eighties when I lived in the UK I used to think that I was lucky if I got baseball scores two or three days late in the International Herald Tribune. But here I was watching college football live on tv. Amazing. Pretty clever, those engineers. BTW the game was awesome. Go Broncos! This may be the year to bust the national championship.

After staying up most of the night to watch college football in the US we slept in pretty late. No big deal as the weather next day was lousy as predicted. It was rainy most of the day. You expect some bad weather in the mountains in Europe. We spent some time in town shopping for new hiking shoes for Sandy. We had a good lunch at the pizza place. We even took a hike along the river in the afternoon when it cleared up for a while. Late in the day I wanted to walk into town to get a tshirt that I had seen. Sandy wasn't too interested but I twisted her arm to come along. It was about a fifteen minute walk from our hotel to town. Pretty safe even if the weather was threatening. But after about five minutes it started to rain lightly and Sandy bailed out and went back to the hotel. Man, what a wimp! I went into town and got my tshirt. Then I walked back to the hotel About five minutes after leaving town it started to rain. No reason to panic, it had been dribbling off and on all day. Except that now it was starting to really rain. No, it was starting to pour. There was nothing to do but keep going. But now it was turning into a downpour. It took me ten more minutes to get to the hotel. By that time I was completely drenched. Seriously, I wouldn't have been wetter if I had jumped in a lake. As miserable as I was, I could only think, thank goodness that Sandy had bailed out earlier. Wet is bad. Dead would be worse.

After two days it was time to leave and head over to the French side. I wished that we could have had one more day to do a long hike in the park. But in the mountains in Europe you have to make your plans, pay your money and take your chances. It was time to move to the French side.