Day 9: Talarn to Lleida, Spain. Karen and Dom’s road trip.

Leaving Talarn we headed today towards the capital of the province, Lleida. It’s not a long journey but it twists and turns following La Noguera Pallaresa river, another gorgeous gorge with stunning scenery. So we stopped quite a lot to get some more snaps for the album. These are the blue waters of the Embalse de los Terradets reservoir.

Lots of opportunity to practice our selfie shots… (we know…could do better!)

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And alongside the lake are tunnels hewn out of the rock itself, looking like the naves of churches built into the cliffs.

After all this scenery, it’s a completely different landscape in the final few miles before Lleida, when the hills drop away and the industry begins. Coming into Lleida there’s not much to write home about – except for the San Miguel brewery. Think there might be a cold one waiting in the fridge…

Coming into a new town is always a bit strange, and you have to find your bearings. Lleida’s not the most inspiring city on its first impression, especially if you find yourself located as we were in the commercial district. Lots of shops, and in the back streets quite a lot of run-down residential areas. We even struggled to find a bar or a restaurant.

And although we have a nice apartment, it’s got a fundamental problem. We’ve gone with AirBnB throughout this trip, partly to be able to self-cater, and partly to get a more homely feel from the places we stay in. This apartment is fine in lots of ways, but it’s basically part of a hotel… and the air conditioning leaks into the bathroom… quite a lot… blimey…. get the towels… and a bucket… We’ve gone without air con for days but when you have it and you’re in the middle of a city in the roasting heat and all you have is a drippy air-con unit…. Looks like this is getting a frowny face from us on AirBnB!

Days 6-8: Talarn – Karen and Dom’s Road Trip, Spain

Talarn is an idyllic little village in the province of Lleida, with a handful of narrow cobbled streets and a church… and virtually nothing else. There was one restaurant, Casa Lola at one end of the street and another, Cafe PanYa at the other. There was a church, of course, and there was a pharmacy which never opened.

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But we had come here to get away from it all and partly to work on a book we’re writing together – so we were very happy with very little going on. On the outskirts of the town was a small open air swimming pool and bar where we spent a couple of afternoons just relaxing.

Talarn is built precariously on a plateau rising up above the landscape. How the buildings manage to stay perched on top of this rock is a mystery, but they do. Just a mile or so away from the town nestles a beautiful reservoir, with the most turquoise water you’ve ever seen. On one side the sluice from the dam sprays water into the valley, and huge fish swim in the calm waters on the other side.

We promised to do a little bit of hiking too – and although we didn’t get very far, we followed the Cami del Terrissos down from the plateau and underneath a railway viaduct towards the historical ice cave. Sadly, the route to the ice cave itself became too overgrown for us to keep going, but it did mean we got to see some of the countryside around Talarn looking pretty peaceful and picturesque.

Despite its tiny size and the sense that the village was asleep for the summer, the municipal groundsman was preparing for the village festival, making a huge racket every morning trimming hedges and emptying bins. He hung up lots of bunting noisily and transformed the main square into a party venue. To our surprise, when the festival opened on Thursday night, the village suddenly became packed and started swarming with townsfolk enjoying a community meal in the square, an illustrated lecture of some sort, a film festival (mostly Catalan) and a stand-up comedian who must have been hilarious judging by the occasional laugh.

We bumped into very few people while we were here – our conversation with the chef from Cafe Lola resulted in us ordering most of the food in the village despite only going in for a drink: we’ve not quite mastered the language yet. Actually, that’s been a bit difficult, even for Dona Karen who is a natty little Spanish speaker. Problem round here is that everyone speaks Catalan, few people want to speak Spanish, and absolutely noone seems to understand English. They all thought we were French or Italian, which either shows how few UK tourists come to this neck of the woods, or it shows how deftly we pass ourselves off as bona fide Europeans. Must be the berets.

We did meet a really lovely guy, Paul, who runs the local hostel. He was looking forward to the beginning of the festival, when he held a disco into the small hours of the night. Since it didn’t start until midnight, it was a bit late for us – maybe we’re not so European after all. But we did enjoy a couple of really nice evenings in Cafe PanYa, a small family-run pizza business with a courtyard and more killer views over the valley. Honestly: picturesque beauty is so run-of-the-mill for the people round here that it must get quite dull.

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While we’ve been here though, there has been a series of terrorist attacks in Barcelona and just down the coast in Cambrils. We’ll be in Barcelona in a day or two – it’s sobering to think that another vibrant European city can be targeted by yet another act of terror.

Day 5: Karen and Dom’s road trip, Spain: Pamplona to Talarn.

Today was a driving day, covering around 320km and passing through some of the most stunning scenery en route. Our journey took us through several gorges and canyons in the foothills of the Pyrenees, where we saw white water rafters shooting the rapids of the Rio Gallego. The towering fingers of the Mallos de Riglos are really spectacular, and we had to stop for a photo opportunity.

We paused for lunch at a nice wayside inn before descending into Huesca, where the San Lorenzo festival is in full swing. Well… this was siesta time, so the town was pretty sleepy and the fiesta was just setting up, though most of the residents were costumed up in their  traditional white and green clothes.

Coming out of Huesca the road took us through the Tunnels of Olvena – check that out on Google; it insists you want the “Tunnels of Love” 😉

There are about ten tunnels in a row, all very short, enabling the drive through the Olvena Canyon to be smooth whilst still giving you incredible views of the scenery – here’s a virtual ride through the tunnels of love, courtesy of RoadTrooper, a big bike and some stirring music!

Finally, after taking the mountain road from Puente de Montanana, with hairpin bends and more great views, we descended into Tremp, and tonight’s destination, Talarn.

Just in time for a glass of vino blanco as the sun sets.

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