Sunday, February 8, 2009

North to Alaska - no make it MADRID!

Saturday 7 February 2009

Friday night in Barcelona was late and we did not get back from dinner until nearly 11 pm.

This morning, by the time we give the apartment a quick once over and pack everything (including our remain groceries) ready to take back to the car it is 11 am and time for us to check out.

It takes two trips to get the suitacases, cameras, food box, laundry bag and various bits and pieces down to the car. While Michael loads it, I prepare for a heart attack by paying for the week's parking (in a public, albeit secure, parking station). The total is €234.50! (that is $460.15!) We never did find any cheaper parking in a city where there is virtually NO free parking unless you are on a moto! However, we have learned a valuable lesson - when booking accommodation for a longer period make sure we find out the parking options before we book it and adjust our booings accordingly! It doesn't pay to assume that you will find anything!!!

Thanks to Google Maps we have an easy exit from Barcelona and soon find ourselves heading out on a motorway and passing suburban areas of countless high rise apartment blocks. Whie it doesn't have the polish of the city and coastal areas, they still seem planned in layout wit plenty of green spaces visible. There are plenty of the national shopping chain El Cortes Ingles to be seen - even from afar. Spaniards love to shop shop shop!

And before anyone complains - we don't apologise for the quality of most of today's photos - they were taken on an action setting out the window of the moving car!

Madrid is a six hour drive away and so once we are out on the Autopista we up the speed to the 120 kph allowed and head north. We see our last view of the Montserrat range - that fairytale like aparition in the middle of a primarily flat countryside that seem to rise out of nowhere.

And then we are out on the Spain that I have been expecting - large open plains with moutainous ranges as a backdrop on the horizon. What I was not prepared for are the countless mesas and buttes that jut up out of the flat valley floors. In times long since gone, huge slow glaciers wound across these valleys grinding away almost everything that stood in their paths. These landforms however, survived - testament to the stronger stuff of rocks other than sandstone! We are very definitely in a sedimentary area - there is no evidence visible to us of igneous rocks.

Today, there are plenty of signs, both stationary and illuminated, along the route advising viento fuerte and yes - the winds are fierce. These winds are now shaping the landscape and you can see where the relentless attacks are slowly eating into the rock surfaces, creating gullies and caves. ichael manages to get a photo of a windsock that looks just like its sign - flying horizontal!

I am amazed at just how rocky the land is and how farming continues amidst the rocky soil. The stones obviously do not impede the movement of any machinery and I guess that in themselves they are some guard against the drying effects of the winds. The land looks so dry and there are plenty of streams with no evidence of water in them - a sight that as Australians we are used to seeing. Still, those stones and rocks are amazing.
One interesting point is that we drive across the Greenwich Meridien
today which is marked excitedly by large road signs and an arch that crosses the road at the point where this imaginary line crosses! Guess when you are out on the wide open plains, it is easy to get excited about - well anything!

On our climb into the high plateaux we pass through vast dolomite outcrops that look grey and desolate - but that is what you get up here.

Now, you will all have heard about the plight of the poor Brits and their snow dumpings. When we last heard this morning before we left Barcelona, many counties had depleted their supplies of salt and grit and were awaiting supplies from Spain and France to get to them.

Well, there sure as hell wasn't going to be the same problem here guys. As we motored along we counted no less than 2 dozen snow ploughs / grit spreaders waiting in off ramp areas, ready to rush into action at the first hint of serious snow. As we drove higher into the hills we were driving into light snow flurries, but with the temperatures hovering around the 4°C range, it melted before it hit the ground. That is not to say that there was not snow around - there was plenty even if it was patchy, but the freeway was clear.

As we get closer to Madrid we start to see lots of bulls. No bull! These are huge! Mounted giant black cutouts dot the skyline from time to time - on of the City's symbols being advertised well before we arrive.

And we will leave you today with the image of the sun being swallowed and Madrid standing jutting into the twilight. It almost looks like a bushfire with the clouds reflecting the dying rays - and you are all in our thoughts on that comment. The less said about our negotiating the internal road systems and our eventual arrival at the hotel the better!

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