Some of you have perhaps read the post from few weeks ago, when I drove from Brussels to my hometown Sempeter pri Gorici in Slovenia. I did the same route back 2 weeks later in my new car â€“ the Ford Focux MKII, 1.8 TDCi Sport. The car is far too nice to explain it in a few lines, so I will concetrate on the routes instead of feelingsâ€¦It has already 3000km and has seen Barcelona as well.
After two crazy weeks in Brussels and Berlin we finally took a break and headed towards Barcelona. Of course, if you are wondering, by car. But not because I would be so obsessed by driving, but simply because itâ€™s not too far away (1300km) and because we wanted to bring down to Catalunya our bikes to do some cycling around Girona. That of course would have been a nightmare with a Ryanair or Vueling flight. So we decided to drive. And what a drive!
You start off leaving Brussels in the direct towards Luxembourg. Belgium has a quite strict policy of 120km/h and people really do drive at that speed. You very rarely see someone driving at high speeds. The drive to Luxembourg takes approximately 1,5 hours and is very pleasant, leading through the greenest part of Belgium (Namur, Arlon), passing by the Ardennes and entering the Grand Duchy, where you only spend some 15 minutes. For those ready to que â€“ the cheapest gasoline in these parts of Europe can still be bought here.. We instead headed towards Metz/Nancy.
The surroundings change quite radically. Old urban areas, very grey, very dirty, with old industries scattered around. A pretty unpleasant sight from the car, although true that the clouds in the sky and mild rain do not help. This made us think a bit about the history of this region with the French-German struggles over this rich industrial basin, full of heavy industry and coal. Enough to say that securing the European Coal and Steel Community has brought forward a major political and economic achievement for the area in the early 1950ies. It has been an essential piece in the peace puzzle of post WWII Europe.
Nevermind the past, the future seems much more depressing for the area, would need to take a closer look at the employment figures and quality of life indicators. As the current capital of Lorraine region, Metz hosts approximatelly 125.000 inhabitants, Nancy some 100.000 (more than 400.000 in the larger metropolitan area). We notice that there are signs leading to Paris virtually everywhere. It is hard to imagine to see a similar thing in Northern Italy, there are no signs leading to Rome at allâ€¦But yet again, it might have something to do with the supremacy of the French capital and the centralisation of the country.
With a short break, we are well on the way towards Lyon, a major city where the rivers RhÃ´ne and SaÃ´ne converge. The approaching starts with a steep descent and an outlook on the sizeable area that the city covers. The Wikipedia entry for Lyon is as always informative and interesting. I never thought the city is so large, in fact is forms the second largest metropolitan area in France (app. 1.600.000 inhabitants), first being of course Paris. It beats Marseille. But there is more: â€œLyon is know as the silk capital of the world and is known for its silk and textiles and is a center for fashion. Lyon is also the international headquarters of Interpol and EuroNews.â€? Anyway, it takes a while before we leave the city behind and proceed on our way towards Barcelona.
Signs pointing towards Milan and Geneva tell how close this is to other major metropolitan areas of this part of Europe. Geneva is a bit more than 1 hour away, Milan some 5 hours. We are more or less on the half way, the kilometers passing by quickly. We pass by Valence, NÃ®mes, Montpellier and Perpignan before entering into Spain through La Jonquera. Itâ€™s a pity that itâ€™s night and that it rains.
After 1360km and 11 hours of driving we finally reach St Feliu de Guixols on the Costa Brava. Both tired, wondering if driving so much makes senseâ€¦Certainly doesnâ€™t for the environment and certainly doesnâ€™t in relation to time-efficiency. But then, we are on holidays and I enjoy long trips where you see new places and get the feeling about how small and interconnected Europe actually is. And after the first bike ride next day, we forgt about it anyway.