Andorra: the country in between

I have a very childish and fun little desire of wanting to add countries or states to the list of countries and states I have visited.  If given the opportunity to slip in to a different country or state, even for hours, I will take it.  My only rule is that stopping in an airport doesn’t count unless you leave the airport.

So, when given the opportunity to visit France and Spain I started planning our trip South from France.  The options were to go up and over the Pyrenees or over and around Eastern France in to Spain and Barcelona.  Well, the decision was easy. I love a good mountain pass and driving through Andorra would provide me with the opportunity to get another stamp on the ‘ol passport.

As soon as we passed through passport control we started ascending the Pyrenees.  The mountain range is largely desolate with world class driving roads that left my husband wishing we were together on his motorcycle.  Much of the drive was completely barren and without structure.  In places it was very pretty.  We drove through in the fall and there was little snow to be seen.   I could certainly see why this area would be a wonderful ski destination though.

Once arriving in Andorra la Vella we realized our Mexican Spanish would be no match for the Catalonian spoken there.  Hikers rejoice in this area with many a trail to trek.  Shoppers rejoice in Andorra la Vella with tax exemptions.  Religious museums and sites abound.

Andorra was a nice and simple destination in between previous days spent visiting the Loire Valley in France, Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, Paris, and the following days spent in Barcelona and Taragona.

Visit Andorra.Com

Click here to view my fun post on Mon Saint Michel

Click here to read about my unplanned visit to Juno Beach in Normandy

DSC_6271-2386

DSCN2672-2320

DSCN2680-2328

DSCN2695-2343

DSCN2699-2347

Knowth, Dowth, and Newgrange…Ireland’s greatest Neolithic Sites

I am once again headed to Ireland, this time with many members of my side of the “Collins” family.  In celebration of our upcoming trip and my impending blog silence I thought I would share some photos of one of my favorite places in Ireland.

Nowth, Dowth, and Newgrange.

DSC_6408

Newgrange is an Irish Passage tomb dating back to 3,200 BC, arguably one of the most impressive Boyne Valley archaeological sites to visit in Ireland. The tomb and the giant mound protecting it have been reconstructed after it was dug up and put back together in the best way archaeologists knew how.  I would like to argue that perhaps it may have looked different way back when…but that is another story.  The outside is adorned with lovely stone brought all the way from the Wicklow Mountains.

The large stone protecting the tomb opening is spectacular second only to the opening itself which allows in a glorious glow of light on the winter solstice should the sun feel like coming out.  The ray of light illuminates the chamber and basin within.  The chamber was built around a giant capstone for it is too large to have been brought in afterwards.

IMG_4594

Visitor’s are treated to a lovely visit at the Brú na Bóinne museum, a bus ride to the site, and a tour of the internal chamber.  Mind your head and I hope you aren’t afraid of the dark!  Tour guides turn out the lights to show just how dark and water tight the inside is and simulate the sunlight entering the chamber on the solstice.  Unless you win the lottery at the Brú na Bóinne visitor’s center this is the only way you will ever see the chamber lit from the outside!

As part of your tour you also get the benefit of visiting Nowth and Dowth, the smaller but no less interesting passage tombs.  They are smaller and more comfortable to explore on your own.  And the art is spectacular.  Make reservations ahead or get to the Brú na Bóinne Visitor’s Center early as this location is very popular with tour groups and visitor’s.

I am so looking forward to sharing this with my parents very soon.

IMG_4586 IMG_4577 DSC_6343

2929

Nowth Macehead

Ahhh shucks… I’m honored to be a featured blogger with Bucketlist Publications – Treasure Island, San Francisco

I am terribly excited to be honored as a feature blogger with Lesley Carter’s Bucketlist Publications. Please check out my piece on Treasure Island nestled in between spans of the Bay Bridge in windy San Francisco Bay!  It’s one of those places I have driven by a million times and always wondered what was there.  Well, I finally found out.  Check it out and let me know what you think!

Click here to view my post on Bucketlist Publications for a fun story and more photos…

image4

Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, France

I can’t tell you the first time I saw an image of Mont Saint Michel but what I can tell you is that I knew I would one day have to visit there.  The need was immediate and strong.  I saw an image, probably on PBS or in a travel magazine, of what I likely thought was a romantic castle on a granite island whose access would wash out twice daily with the tides.

DSC_5584-1355

DSC_5540-1302

Only later did I realize it was first an 8th century Monastery, ultimately a Jail, and now one of the most glorious and interesting and beautiful locations to visit in France.  The opportunity to go to France with my husband came up (honeymoon!) and I won’t lie. I was more excited about visiting Mont Saint Michel than I was Paris.  And this Normandy island beauty did not disappoint.

DSC_5618-1405

My first distant glimpse of the 247 acre UNESCO heritage site was from miles away.  I had been staring so hard in the direction of the island I was trying to will it to be closer and nearly jumped out of my seat at the first site of it.  My dream was really coming true.  This was frankly, the main reason I wanted to visit France and the time was finally here.  The land that surrounds the island is moderately flat so one can see it for miles as they drive towards it.  We couldn’t help but stop at the final approach to take a photo of the entire island, still from a short distance away, knowing once we were on the rock we wouldn’t be able to capture its full glory on film.  As sometimes happens the sunset helped make my moment even more perfect.

DSC_5380-1072

DSC_5389-1081

DSC_5406-1104

DSCN2394-1058

While pilgrims once made the journey to the 8th century fortified Monastery, through the mud at low tide, there is now a small road that allows visitors to park their cars at the base of the island.  Visitors must schlep their luggage, on foot, up the steep hill to their accommodation should they be staying on the mountain.  I would highly recommend this because seeing the area lit up at night, largely without tourists, is worth every penny.  The architecture is gorgeous with stained glass, interesting doors everywhere, small single lane cobblestone walkways.  Everything, however, is up hill and uneven.  The island is peaceful and charming and invites you to walk around and explore its soul.

DSC_5495-1239

DSC_5428-1143

DSC_5419-1129

DSC_5418-1119

DSC_5410-1112

DSC_5500-1245

DSC_5515-1267

The monastery tour gives you a lot of history behind the creation, occupation, politics, and present state of the buildings on the island. The grounds are lovely and the view is beautiful.  The island is so small it wouldn’t make sense to miss the tour!  One can take guided tours or take the recorded and informative tour and explore on your own.

DSC_5548-1312

DSC_5545-1309

DSC_5540-1302

DSC_5529-1287

DSC_5584-1355

DSC_5561-1325  DSC_5552-1316

DSC_5500-1245

Mont Saint Michel on the bucket list…CHECK! I can tell you that I will never grow tired of looking at this island from any angle in any light at any tide.  It is an amazing idea, an amazing feat of engineering, and most importantly an amazingly romantic dream come true no matter the reasons behind its creation.

Incidentally, I only recently learned that Mont Saint Michel has a similar location in Cornwall, St Michael’s Mount.  You know I am going to have to go check that out some day…

DSC_5512-1261

DSC_5616-1401

DSC_5517-1273

DSC_5418-1119

DSC_5410-1112

DSC_5406-1104

 

 

An unplanned stop in Normandy, France

My husband and I were traveling from Paris to the area of Mont Saint Michel in Western France.  We set out by car,me organized with my navigation plans fully planned out.  My husband noted that we would be driving through the Normandy area. Thinking it was a site not to be missed he wanted to take a “quick” detour.  I had carefully planned out our route and this was going to throw off my plans significantly which immediately set off my anxiety button.  But, instinctively, I knew he was right.  We headed for the Juno and Utah beach areas closest to our previously planned route.  And, I am so grateful we did, despite my fear of missing out on anything at Mont Saint Michel.

It was an honor to visit the area and a few local museums.  The museums were naturally filled with veterans of the war on both sides with honors going to all countries who participated.  How meaningful and moving it must be to come back to the location of the invasion so many years later with one’s children and grand children in tow.  It is really easy to see the area on PBS specials, movies, and books.  It is all very real and very breathtaking standing on the beach and seeing shells of tanks, giant metal obstructions placed in the water to impede boats from coming on shore, and cement bunkers still standing in place.

DSC_5360-1024 DSC_5363-1027 DSCN2392-1013 DSC_5356-1018 DSC_5357-1019

I was particularly impressed with an art installation on Juno Beach at the Canadian Juno Beach Center representing the soldiers who fought and who were lost.  I was also equally impressed and shocked to see how far soldiers had to make it from the beach to their varying assignments if they were fortunate enough to survive.  It is a testimate to the bravery of these soldiers no doubt.

DSC_5369-1035 DSC_5370-1040 DSC_5371-1043 DSC_5372-1045 DSC_5352-1014 DSC_5368-1033

It was a humbling and beautiful experience to visit and I am grateful my husband insisted we go.  Sometimes, the unplanned moments on a trip become the highlight.

For more information on the Normandy invasion click here.

Utah Beach Museum