Comfort Stops and the Grandeur of Ordesa
Trip Start May 12, 2010
13Trip End May 28, 2010
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If an establishment looks promising, I hop off the bus and take a peek inside. If the bar or restaurant has decent toilets I ask whoever is around, in a combination of 1 word phrases and sign language if our group can use them, provided we purchases some café con leche or snacks. The answer has always been positive and the system works surprisingly well.
Although such "comfort stops" are a reality of travel life, our planning team is always on the lookout for stops that offer more than just a couple of toilets. During our 2009 planning trip, Pat and I had been in search of a comfort stop, with no luck, when we encountered a turnoff onto a side road signposted to "Roda de Isabena - 1 km".
This morning, after winding along the sides of fresh, spring-green, Pyrenees valleys and through breathtakingly narrow canyons of the pre-Pryenees - the foothills, we passed into Aragón and returned to the quiet, medieval-era, hilltop village of Roda de Isabena. The parking lot was empty, we were the only visitors, and we were charmed. A 200-meter climb up a winding cobblestone lane led us to the main square, with a delightful Romanesque church. Venerable old stone houses and breathtaking panoramas of the valley below and the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees added to the pinch-me discoverer's delight of feeling like the first to have found this jewel.
After snooping around the village, and drinking in the ambiance, we attended to our primary purpose at the sole open establishment in this sleeping time capsule - the requisite comfort stop - and reluctantly returned to our coach for the ongoing journey to Ordesa National Park, and our walk of the day.
Our route followed a now-familiar pattern. Pyrenees valleys generally run north and south. Roads, therefore, generally flow north and south. In order to reach Ordesa National Park, due west of Aran Valley, we had to drive south, then west, then north, our route forming a "U" shape.
Nacho, our guide for the balance of the Adventure, met us last night in Aran Valley, and now proposed a lunch stop in Ainsa, another ancient town with a picturesque past. Mid-afternoon, we arrived in Torla, on the edge of Ordesa National Park. The old stone church in the foreground with the massifs of Ordesa behind begged a group photo, and afterwards, we motored into the park, excited about the perfect conditions for a walk.
We spent the next three hours exploring the grandeur of Ordesa. Seldom have I enjoyed such non-stop scenic wows. The afternoon sun injected all we saw with a splendid profusion of animating light. The blues of the sky snapped, the spring greens of the beech forest glittered, the rushing water of the Arazas River flowed a translucent aquamarine.
Some peeled off at the 5 kilometer mark and checked into the hotel in nearby Torla early. The rest finished the 10 kilometer route, arriving at the hotel in the tiny, fairytale mountain village of Torla in time to freshen up before another superb meal of local Spanish cuisine.
I've already decided that our schedule is too full - that future Adventures will have to either be longer or sacrifice part of the program to allow more down time. The problem is that each day holds irreplaceable experiences. Northern Spain is proving to be one of our most challenging destinations. There is simply too much to see and experience!
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