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DAY 19: from URDOS to JACA across the Somport pass (1640 m), 60 km

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Today is the big day. We are prepared to ride the last 20 km over the top of the Somport pass, as thousands of pilgrims have done over the years. Mostly Italians and French from the South of France used the Via Tolosana or the Chemin d’Arles to reach Santiago de Compostela. We didn't wake up early as Floky requested some extra sleep. After breakfast in our room to avoid unfriendly encounters at Hotel les Voyageurs, we start our journey. Some of the staff remind me of the Thénardiers, the unfriendly and dishonest innkeepers that Victor Hugo described in "Les Misérables".

By the way, Victor Hugo also lost a daughter who drowned in the Seine and he wrote a very serene poem about it that I have always loved. It is called "Demain dès l'aube" or "Tomorrow at the crack of dawn". I find it captivatingly beautiful and moving. But a person has to understand French to appreciate that…

The way from Urdos to the Somport pass

It's ten o'clock when we leave the village of Urdos heading towards the Somport. When I loaded my bike I noticed that my bike's odometer showed only 63 km of possible distance supported by the electrical battery after being fully charged overnight. Usually, it goes up to around 120 km once I'm on the bike. Floky's bike also displayed the same 63 km in ECO mode. I had 40 km in TOUR mode, and we had to cover 25 km uphill. We couldn't figure out why the range was so limited. Nevertheless, Floky has two batteries, so I told him to go ahead, and we wouldl figure out later what had gone wrong.

The ascent was challenging, and I had to stop often also because I wanted to take photos of the stunning landscape along the Somport pass. Floky reaches the top first and waits to take a picture with the 1640-meter sign. As a celebration, we have cappuccinos at the cafe on the top of the mountain. I also get my battery refilled for 3 euros.

On the top of the Somport pass and then down in the direction of Jaca

The panoramic views are breathtaking, even with cloudy and chilly weather. We are both wearing our thick sweaters now. As we descend on the gentle slopes of the Pyrenees on the Spanish side, we notice that our batteries are lasting much longer than expected. We can't explain it. If anyone has an explanation, we welcome it. I think the cold weather might affect battery performance, while Floky believes batteries might have a life of their own, a spiritual explanation. Any suggestions and explanations from the readers of the blog are welcome.

Canfranc station and a view of the citadel (fortress) of Jaca

We race downhill and must be cautious not to let our bikes roll too fast during the 30-km ride to the center of Jaca, where we practically don't need to pedal. Along the way, we spot the grand Camfranc station, which opened in 1928 and used to be an important train station. Now, it serves as both a station and a hotel, an impressive sight.

Around 1:30 PM, we arrive at the B&B on Via Francia – a simple, clean room with access to a kitchen and a shared compound pool, which we don't use, but we're glad it's there.

After a short rest and a shower, I head to the nearby city center, just 600 meters away. First, I encounter the 19th-century fortress built to defend the entrance to Spain. Now, it's a peaceful oasis where people relax and sleep on the grass after a warm day.

The citadel (fortress) of Jaca and St. Peter's church

The old town is close by, with its charming streets and, most notably, the Romanesque Church of Saint Peter – a magnificent example of Romanesque art in northern Spain. It's truly a sight to behold.

Both the church and the cloister are Romanesque, but due to a fire, the church received new Renaissance vaults in the 16th century, which blend remarkably well with the Romanesque structure. Renaissance wall paintings can also be admired in the choir. The church's impressive columns feature finely decorated capitals, though not with intricate tympanums and many symbols.

Saint Peter's church in Jaca with Renaissance vaults and wall paintings

However, there are beautiful statues such as the one of Saint Christopher who protects against an unexpected or untimely death without having received the Holy Sacraments. The altars, like that of Saint Anne with the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, showcase beautiful Baroque artistry. At the back of the church, there's a strikingly beautiful "genadestoel" (mercy seat, God the father holding his son on the cross).

The former cloister of the church's canons (who followed the rule of Augustine, similar to the Norbertines of Sarrance) is elegantly simple, despite undergoing many renovations. In 1970, an adjacent museum was established, focusing on Romanesque frescoes and murals from neglected churches that were falling into ruins. In the 1960s, a technique was developed to transfer the frescoes from old Romanesque churches onto canvas and then reassemble them in a replica of the original church or chapel. This was also done in Catalonia, where there is even an entire museum dedicated to these frescoes.

Jaca, Saint Peter's church: Saint Christopher, the garden of the monastery, the church of Bagués in the museum

This is also the case here. The museum even transported an entire church, the Church of Bagués, and the ensemble of Romanesque frescoes is so stunning that it's called the Sistine Chapel of Romanesque frescoes. We encountered a similar Sistine Chapel of Romanesque frescoes last year at San Isidoro in Leon. Both are splendid, yet different. Floris joins me in the cathedral, and together we admire the Romanesque frescoes, hoping he enjoys them as much as I do .

Jaca, Saint-Peter's: Frescoes and a capital in the museum

After his cultural exploration, we head to a terrace next to the cathedral for a drink. Around 6 PM, the Spanish cities come alive, and everyone is strolling around, enjoying their drinks and socializing. We return to our room around 6:30 PM, buy groceries for tomorrow, and get two pizzas for dinner.

Tomorrow, we face another challenging day as we ride back to France after following the pilgrims over the Somport pass. We'll pass through Formigal towards Lourdes, which we'll reach in two days. We had to shorten our bike pilgrimage because Tim is picking up Floris two days earlier than planned.

Unfortunately, we miss visiting the eight pre-Romanesque churches in the Boi Valley, but most of the frescoes from those churches are displayed in the Catalan National Museum in Barcelona. Tomorrow, we'll spend the entire day climbing back through the Pyrenees. Hopefully, our batteries will now show the correct number of kilometers. Regardless, we must conquer the pass again, and we hope it will be just as beautiful.

The pleasant streets of Jaca

I'm going to sleep now as it's 10 PM, and I feel my eyes closing. Thanks to everyone who reads our blog, and especially those who leave comments, which is even more enjoyable. A big thank you to all those who have supported our second pilgrimage by donating to the Rinus-Pini Fund at the King Baudouin Foundation (KBS). This support is crucial as it allows us to continue helping others. Rientje would be proud of us, just as we were always proud of him. Without a doubt, he's immensely grateful to all of you.

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