Barcelona. The name of this Catalunian city trips easily off the American tongue. Phonetically spelled, multi-sylolabic but simple, it’s a lovely wordl. Andrew and I like it so much, we began using it just to hear it. One Saturday when a telemarketer called him, he ignored the salesman’s inquiry about long distance service and said:
“Will you take me to Barcelona?”
The salesman, taken aback, took a moment to say, “Ah, no.”
“Well if you aren’t going to take me to Barcelona, then I can’t talk to you,” Andrew replied, and hung up.
I should say that we believe we are completely within our rights to enact performance art to an audience of one — ourselves — upon telemarketers. We didn’t ask them to call us. They took the horrible job. They have to take whatever we want to dish out to them.
But I digress.
Visit Barcelona and you quickly learn of the lovely word’s deception. First, the locals pronounce it “Barthelona.” Equally often they call it Barco, an ancient form of the name. And, although this is Spain, the locals aren’t speaking Spanish. Barcelona, the capital of Catalunya, clings to its native “language” like Quebec does to French. Visit Catalunya and be prepared to deal with a hybrid of Spanish, French, Italian and probably some dead languages: Catalan.
My friend Antonia, a vagabond American who I met years ago in Los Angeles at Arrays, Inc., moved to Barcelona two years ago to teach English to locals who she thought would be Spanish speakers. She says that some of her younger students must use a Catalan/Castilian (Spanish) dictionary in her classes in order to understand the Spanish she uses to teach them English.
Prior to our trip to Barcelona to visit Antonia, I invested in a Spanish language book/tape package and some software. I was woefully negligent about studying it, so failed to increase my SoCal and NYC street Spanish by a noticeable amount before our departure. As it turned out, the Spanish I knew was enough to handle menus and signs, and where that didn’t work I could improvise with English, German, and French.
The language melange reached its wonderful apex for us when a German woman approached us in a supermarket and asked if I spoke any German. I was able to tell her “a little” in colloquial German and understand that she wanted an explanation of a sign on a display of bottled water. Antonia was able to understand the sign, which, in Catalan, was promoting a rewards point system for shoppers who possessed a discount card. Somehow we managed to convey this concept to the woman, who then wondered if she needed such a card as she was staying in Spain for a month, although she spoke no Spanish, or, obviously, Catalan. Brave Soul.
Alas, I did not photograph the erstwhile German shopper in Girona. But I did take plenty of other pictures. So carry on, and follow our adventures in European languages in the north east corner of Spain.
Barcelona is known as:
- The capital of Catalunya
- Home of Gaudi’s wierd modernist buildings and art
- Site of the 1992 Summer Olympics
- A cosmopolitan Mediterranean city
- An important port, in both ancient and modern times
- A gay-friendly city
- A haven for Spanish foodies
Putting Barcelona in American terms, it’s like a California port city. It’s more condensed than Los Angeles, but has a beach to rival Venice. It has San Diego’s casual charm, but San Francisco’s formality and gay population. This makes a lot of sense given Barcelona’s importance as a Spanish port. Doubtlessly some early settlers and traders in California found their way there from Barcelona.
Saturday, June 9
We began our three days in Barcelona (not enough, not nearly enough!) with a stroll along the turquoise-tiled Las Ramblas, into the Barri Gotic to see the Cathedral, then along beside the Roman walls to the marina. It was a journey from twentieth century design back through the dark ages and past the glory of Rome that ended at a bar on the beach. Literally. Sipping sangria with our toes in the sand. No trip that starts that way can be bad.
Sunday, June 10
We returned to the Barri Gotic the next day to visit the city museum. After viewing the strange multimedia presentation on the history of Barcelona (for which non-Catalan speakers were issued headsets in our choice of language) we were allowed to proceed to the main attraction: the Roman foundations excavated beneath the more recent medieval buildings. Catwalks thread their way above and through the ancient stone, with helpful interpretive plaques in Catalan, Spanish, and English (in that order). The excavation is extensive, including streets, shops, homes, government and religious buildings, and an enormous wine-making plant.
After a brief stop for tapas and beer, we caught the metro to see Familia Segurda (Sacred Family), Gaudi’s unfinished cathedral. For all his whimsical, organic designs, Gaudi was actually a rather dour, deeply spiritual fellow. He devoted his later life to the cathedral, but died before it was anywhere near complete. His plans were lost in a fire, so later architects have tried to continue the project by interpreting what he would have wanted — when funding is available. You can pay to go inside, but it’s essentially a giant construction site with a museum in the crypt, so we contented ourselves with a stroll around the perimeter.
Next we walked up the Avinguda Gaudi through a neighborhood called Camp de l’Arpa, or Field of the Dolmen (“ici dolmen!”) — named for a long-lost megalith. Our objective, the Hospital de Sant Pau, is a working hospital in a campus of modernista buildings (designed by Domenech I Montaner). Antonia’s steps seemed to grow lighter as we approached the ornate entrance gates.
“I want to live here!” she said wistfully. I gathered I wasn’t the first to suggest that she could development an ailment that would require her to become a patient.
We wandered through the garden-like setting admiring twisty turrets and tiled domes, thinking about how it would be to convalesce iin such a place.
We found a taxi to take us up steep streets to Park Guell. Here Gaudi struck again, fulfilling a commission to design a park setting for a housing development. The houses, other than Gaudi’s own, were never built. So the architect’s rambling paths, tilted stone columns and arches, and tile encrusted buildings and benches have become one of the city’s favorite recreation areas.
Andrew and I paid the admission to visit Gaudi’s little house, filled with furniture and fixtures tht he designed. It’s a strange little building, poorly organized with a lack of firm direction. Perhaps this is because Gaudi never really lived there, but rather lived in his workshop in the Familia Segurdal.
n any case, the tiny gift shop is very good — as were many of the museum stores we visited. The Catalunyans have a highly developed sense of tourism.
Exiting the park past Gaudi’s clever giant lizard (scale models available at most tourstico shoops, see mine?), we walked down hill through a variety of neighborhoods, finally reaching sidewalk seating for a small neighborhood bar. As we approached, Antonia threw open her arms to greet a woman at one of the tables.
“Pilar!” she cried with delight.
“Antonia!” came the reply. This was followed by introductions and double cheek kiss greetings (okay, this is Spain, is it two kisses or three?).
Over beers we eventually learned that Pilar and her husband Vicktor live in the apartment building above the bar. This explained why virtually every passerby on the sidewalk greeted Pilar. She was very much the grande dame of the block.
As we chatted in broken Spanish, Catalan, and English, Pilar and her friends took to heart our quest for a certain type of terracotta cooking pot. They provided us with the names and general locations to two kitchen supply shops, and maps made up of seemingly random lines on a napkin. We filed this information for pursuit on the morrow.
Meanwhile, we begged for dinner advice. We’d been up and going quite early and had not stopped for lunch. Nevertheless, Jujo, one of Antonia’s other friends, was incapable of helping us to make a dinner reservation earlier than 9:30 p.m. Even at the touristy restaurant, recommended by another friend, that was one of the few open on Sunday and certainly catered to our earlier dinner schedule.
So we dined at 9:30 and finally, at long last, crawled into our beds at midnight.
Monday, June 11
Put On Your Walking Shoes
We parted ways with Antonia for the morning, she to take care of some business, we to make our way downtown to the Maritime Museum. We decided to look for one of the kitchen supply stores first, as it was on our way. Pilar’s directions proved accurate, as we soon found ourselves on a street with stores specializing in fabrics and household wares. We inquired at the cooking store she thought she had meant (we did not have the name, just the location). Only one employee spoke any English, but we were able to make her understand what we were looking for. She even checked in the storeroom, but to no avail. Then she told us the Spanish name of the pot we were seeking.
We exited feeling victorious at having added a piece to the puzzle. The shop next door looked to have more general household goods, so we didn’t bother to go in. We later figured out that Pilar had been thinking of the second store, so we may have walked right past our goal.
Next we walked into the Barri Gothic, pausing to admire Montaner’s Palau de la Musica and poke our heads into little shops selling metal signs and antique knick-knacks. The mental shopping lists were growing, although we were treating this as an expeditionary trip and did little actual purchasing. We did stop at the City Museum shop again for a couple items that we’d left during yesterday’s visit.
Now it was getting late and we took a more direct course to the Maritime Museum. I’d read and heard only good things about this museum of seafarers, and it lived up to it’s reputation. Housed in Barcelona’s ancient, enormous ship building facility, the museum presents a history of sailing with a Mediterranean perspective. The price of admission includes an audio tour – a good thing since all the signs are in Catalan (or maybe it’s Spanish, having the audio spoiled us into not even trying to read them). The museum’s centerpiece is a 100+ foot Spanish galley, placed in the museum in the spot where she was originally built several hundred years ago. Standing on a platform above her decks, her row upon row of four-man oars present a world unto themselves. The galley’s cabin is opulent, but being a slave would have been a living hell.
Leaving the museum around the time we were due to meet Antonia for lunch, took a taxi back to her place to pick her up, then taxied up Mt. Tibidabo to La Venta for lunch.
Antonia had asked one of her adult students, a stock broker and wine connoisseur, to provide some restaurant recommendations for us. The restaurant in the marina had been his first success, so we were pleased to try his second recommendation. We’d expected a view, since the restaurant is near the top of one of Barcelona’s hills, but instead were seated in an outdoor garden dining area. Andrew studied the wine list, and Antonia decided that her student would be delighted to know we were taking his recommendations, and advise us about the wine. So she called him and a lengthy discussion of the available wines ensued. A choice was finally made and muchas gracias paid to Alex.
Andrew then ordered the sea urchin appetizer and received a plate of the spiney critters on the half-shell. I had flashbacks of cracking them open with my dive knife to feed the garibaldi while scuba diving in Shaw’s Cove north of Laguna beach. I wanted desperately to try them, but the only times I’ve been ill after eating sushi was when I had uni (raw sea urchin), so I suspect that I’m allergic. These were cooked, but it seemed unwise to tempt fate. Andrew had no trouble eating them all by himself.
After lunch we parted company again, Andrew and I to look for the other kitchen shop and pick up our rental car. We wandered in a mult-block radius of the location identified by Pilar, but didn’t find any cooking stores. Bummed, we decided to walk to the car rental office, which was, by our estimation, not too far. We found the correct avenue easily. The address we sought was #209, and we were at #96. How far could it be?
Barcelona is a sloping city, from the hills like Tibidabo where had lunch, down to the sea. Like Manhattan, Barcelona follows a grid pattern with a few avenues on diagonals (including the appropriately named La Diagonal). At the intersections of the grids, the corners of the corner buildings have been lopped off, so that each intersection is an octagon rather than a square. This opens up the intersections and gives much more light to the side streets. It also means pedestrians have to take about twice as many steps to get through each intersection as they follow the sidewalk along the diagonals in front of the cut off corners. We started a few blocks up from the marina. Twenty minutes and 12 or so hot, uphill blocks later we were in the 190s. We’d passed through a variety of neighborhoods and past the multi-block college of medicine. At last I caught sight of a red Avis sign through the trees ahead.
The rental agent processed our reservation and announced that he was giving us an upgrade for the same price. I looked out into the adjacent garage and asked if we were getting the BMW parked there.
He said no, “something very similar.”
We chuckled, and Andrew asked, “the SAAB then?” indicating a car that was just outside.
The man laughed and said, “no, no. A very nice Renault.”
Just like a BMW.
Andrew immediately took to calling it a People Mover and refused to drive it. I retaliated by popping the clutch several times, claiming that I was rusty driving a stick. Once we were settled in the vehicle, in fact a dark blue miniature minivan, Andrew observed that we were actually really close to Antonia’s place (i.e., a long way up hill from where we’d started walking).
He navigated us through the city streets to the garage by our hotel, where we endured a rather lengthy process for leaving the car that included providing our contact information and advanced payment. All the while a woman in a big SUV was waiting to get into the tiny driveway, occasionally revving her engine. When our account was settled, the attendant explained that we would find our keys on the tire of the car when we came for it in the morning. The SUV’s engine revved again. Andrew asked the attendant about the new Jaguar parked in the garage. Rev, rev. I moved toward the exit. The attendant, oblivious to the SUV, described the jag’s electrical problems in Spanglish. Rev Rev Rev. At last Andrew broke things off and followed me out, leaving the attendant to move our car so the SUV lady could get in.
We walked back downhill to La Pedrera, an apartment building designed by Gaudi. Admission gives you access to the attic where exhibits show floorplans and designs of Gaudi’s many buildings, the roof with it’s organic stonework and views of the city, and the top floor apartments. One apartment is given over to rotating exhibits, the other is restored to Gaudi’s original living space plan. Visitors can wander around the rooms, touch the furniture, and contemplate what it would be like to live in an apartment with no right angles. We dragged ourselves away from La Pedrera without visiting the gift shop, and caught a taxi to the shopping mall where we were meeting Antonia. She had a class at Alex’s office nearby. We wanted to visit Fnac, the French music and electronics chain that had a big store there.
After Antonia’s class and our shopping spree, we wandered back toward Antonia’s stopping for a tapas dinner at a bar that she was curious about. It was local place that she said always seemed to have a crowd. The tapas was nothing special, but as we were hungry it hit the spot. Entertainment was provided by the locals and their dogs. One was well behaved and on a leash, the other was allowed to run loose, to the great annoyance of owner number one and the rest of us who had to put up with the fuss it all caused.
Tuesday, June 12
As promised, the keys to our car were on the tire. We navigated easily out of Barcelona and onto the highway going south. We were headed for the monasteries around the town of Montblanc.
As I drove Andrew spread first one map, then another open on his lap. Under these was a white envelope of web printouts and photocopied guide books (I bought the book, but only needed to carry a small portion).
“These Spanish maps are dreadful,” Andrew explained. This one has the road we’re on, but the name is way up here beyond the fold . . .” he traced a narrow red line far across the map.
“The names on this one are easier to find, but our road isn’t on it,” he held up another map.
At the highway tollbooth, the attendant took our money, gave me change, and, looking at Andrew’s lap, handed me yet another map.
Andrew spread it open with the rest.
“I’ve got this window for the details, this one for the larger view, and this,” he held up the envelope, “is our hard drive with the database. Who needs a computer?”
Our first stop was the Monasterio de Santes Creus, a Cistercian monastery founded in the 12th century. It was still early in the tourist day, so the cloister and open buildings were still awash in morning quiet. We particularly enjoyed the fountain overgown with moss. How had this been allowed to happen? And why didn’t they clean it off? We were glad they didn’t, though.
Our next monastery is Poblet, a site more developed for visitors. Here we were required to join a tour, not allowed to wander on our own. This was still a working monastery, as belied by the computer tucked in among the ancient volumes in the library. It was worth the tour. We were taken out onto the roof of the cloister, providing an unusual vantage point over the quiet internal garden.
After the tour we made our way to Monteblanc for lunch.
This modest walled town gets a sizeable description in the Michelin Green Guide, which means it gets tour busses.
We picked up a brochure (en Espanol) and list of restaurants in the tourist office outside the walls, then took a quick walking tour of the medieval center.
Our tour took us past each of the three restaurants that served “regional” cuisine. We selected one based on the posted menu and general appearance. The house wine was truly strange, but otherwise the meal was pleasant, if a little dense.
We took another post-lunch stroll to the town’s pride — it’s church. Iglesia de Santa Maria displays a very ornate facade. We also sought out a few other notable buildings in town before returning to the people mover for our afternoon tour.
Our third monastery was really a convent: Convento de la Serra. We arrived about thirty minutes before the posted closing time and entered a large shop through a pair of modern glass doors.
An elderly gentleman sold us tickets and gestured politely toward a doorway near the rear of the store. We headed for the doorway as the man made his way over to the glass doors and locked them.
“We must be the last customers,” I muttered.
“Perhaps the only ones today . . .” Andrew suggested. It would not be the first time in our travels.
The passage led into the cloister where the sounds of construction shattered what must have been a peacefull setting 500 years ago. We’re just starting to wander around the garden when the gentleman joins us. He guides us along the cloister walk, pointing out sculpted architectural members, tombs, and other details in Spanish. We’re able to follow well enough to get the gist. As we tour the cloister I hear a telephone ring and go unanswered, and another buzzer that sounds like a doorbell.
The construction is, in fact, renovation of part of the structure. Nobody lives in the convent now, but nuns do visit to care for it and light candles. We leave with the impression that our guide is deeply religious and committed to the place.
As we return to the shop the gentleman goes to unlock the glass doors. Another couple is hovering outside, probably the source of the earlier doorbell. As we leave, he’s selling them tickets.
Wednesday, June 13
Montserrat and Medieval Villages
After the monasteries we drove on to our hotel in Cardona. For our lodging outside of Barcelona we’d decided to try three of Spain’s chain of upscale, government run tourist hotels, the Paradors. The Parador in Cardona is a 15th Century hilltop castle. A highlight of our overnight stay there was the drive up to it, and maneuvering our peoplemover into a parking space on a stone terrace that once housed knightly charger.
Our room was comfortable. I was enchanted by the shuttered window set into the two-foot thick exterior wall. When I opened it I was serenaded by flocks of swallows swooping over the valley and into nooks in the walls.
We had to make a reservation to use the gym and sauna, but fortunately a slot was available in 30 minutes. The gym facility lacked a lot, but we enjoyed the dry sauna. As far as we could determine, the reason we needed an appointment was so that the staff could tidy up in advance of our arrival.
At dinner I ordered a lobster and steak dish that was very appealing. The steak and side dishes were quite good, but I was a bit challenged by the half lobster on my plate. I ate the tail meat with knife and fork easily enough, but the claw, which was quite heavy with meat, was impenetrable.Andrew asked first one waitress and then another for a tool to open the claw. I wonder if they don’t expect diners to eat the claw. Maybe they want it for tomorrow’s soup. Andrew hailed another waitress who was heading our general direction with a serving cloth in her hand. She veered toward us and suddenly looked relieved. She opened the cloth to reveal a plier-like instrument. It served very well for opening the claw. Although I believed it came out of a kitchen tool kit, I started looking for something like it at the markets we visited.
Leaving Cardona in the morning we drove east and soon saw the otherworldly profile of the peaks of Montserrat. These conical rock peaks were formed as wind and rain eroded the softer surronding stone and soil. Their mystical appearance was an obvious draw for the church. Nestled high among the peaks is a religious enclave and pilgrimage site. A black madonna graces the church at Montserrat, and we joined a line for an upclose view.
Multilingual signs prohibited cameras, smoking, and, as we entered the sanctuary, talking. It was amusing to see that some visitors could not manage to obey this simple rule for the 10 minutes or so that it took to file past the statue and out. A woman stumbled and had to mutter her annoyance. A cel phone rang and was answered. The statue was protected by a clear plexiglass enclosure except for a single, worn finger. Visitors paused to touch or kiss the finger, or whisper short prayers as they touched scraps of paper to it.
A service was scheduled for 11 a.m. — Montserrat’s choir is somewhat well known. But we decided that the whole pilgrimage/retreat/hermitage atmosphere did not suit our mood for the morning. We chose to move on to see a group of medieval villages before finding our hotel in Vich.
It’s market day in Banyoles, so we stopped for a look. We bought small hard candies like the ones we’d received in our hotel, and paused to admire a sign for a Spanish Notary. Andrew often jokes that his notary stamp allows him to make any written document “legal.”
But Banyoles’s market was closing down for lunch, and the atmosphere didn’t charm us. So we drove on to Besalu. Here was atmosphere aplenty. We found parking in the square in the center of the medieval town and first visited the tourist office a couple squares over. Armed with brochres and more maps (of Besalu and the region), we returned to the main square for a light lunch of sandwiches and beer.
After lunch we wandered. Besalu had a lot to see for such a small place. The reinforced bridge arched gracefully over the small river providing great views of the city walls. The narrow medieval streets presented antique homes, passages, churches, a former Jewish bath house, and government buildings all well described in our various guide materials.
Despite the availability of guide information, Besalu still possessed an aura of reality. As Andrew said, it had not been “prettified.” There were plenty of tourists and the town absorbed them well enough, but it did not seem to cater to them (us!).At last it was time to move on. From Besalu we headed west and slightly south to the town of Vich. Thinking to shorten the journey, and enjoying the smaller roads rather than the highways, we followed a country road through small towns and toward a line of low mountains.
Shortly we were climbing a wooded slope on a narrow road. It switched back and forth through a multitude of blind hairpin turns, occasionally revealing incredible vistas between the trees. It was a squiggly line on a couple of Andrew’s maps, but the drawing in no way conveyed reality.Our peoplemover chugged valiantly up the slopes. Fortunately the road surface was good, although it was painted with messages in Catalan and sometimes Spanish. At first we thought they were warnings to be careful on the curves, but eventually we translated a message that said “no tunnel.””No, that’s why we’re on this road,” we thought, puzzled.Later I read that a tunnel through the mountain was planned, connecting a stretch of new road we’d seen on the east side with another one we found when we finally reached the bottom on the west side.Harrowing as the drive was, I could understand why the locals did not want their mountain blasted through. It was beautiful, and traffic was kept low because of it.
Thursday, June 14
Dilly Dali-ing on the Costa Brava
I’d been curious about the Teatro-Museu Dali in Figueres since I first read about it. The Michelin Green Guide says it’s “a world of folly and caprice which may charm or exasperate, but never fails to impress.” Dali himself bought the theatre and installed his works in it, a notion that intrigued me — most museums display their collections based on a curator’s design, not that of the artists.
I’m not, however, a great devotee of Dali. I was only vaguely familiar with his amusing work before visiting Figueres. But, having read a bit about Gaudi and visited his masterpieces, I was starting to get a handle on the absurdist, modernista world in which these artists dwelt. What the Green Guide fails to convey (or I failed to absorb) is Dali’s serious nature. What looks like a big joke to the casual observer was not in the least but humorous to the artist.
We reached the museum by 10 a.m. Thinking we were early, we put the peoplemover in a convenient parking lot and walked into the courtyard of the Dali museum. There was a 30-minute line waiting to buy tickets. We were astounded.
While waiting we were able to observe the exterior decorations on the theatre, including the divers on the balconies and the sleek statutes holding baguettes lining the roof. My imagination simply failed me when I tried to guess the meaning of it all.
Soon we were admitted. I was asked to check my bag and assured it would be delivered to the exit for me. I struggled not to compare the visit to an amusement park ride. I kept my still camera rather than my video camera, thinking it more discrete. Silly me.
The most frustrating thing about the place was, we realized immediately, absolutely intentional. Dali had arranged the exhibits with absolutely no clear path. It was simply impossible to make our way through the place and see everything without retracing our steps over and over.
We dutifully looked at paintings, sculptures, assemblages, installations, and fakes. Entering one small, stuffy sub-stage room, we encountered an American tour.
“Was the guy just strange, or what?” a hefty Texan was asking their guide. The guide dissembled.
“Well, he was different, you know? Very different. Come this way . . .”
In other spaces intense Europeans pointed video cameras at sketches and paintings, shooting a few seconds of the image, then capturing the adjacent tag. This scene was as surreal as any of Dali’s art.
The longer we stayed, the more crowded it got. Busloads of Dali enthusiasts jammed the crowded corridors. We fled.
Back in the peoplemover we headed for the coast.
Antonia had spoke negatively of Cadequez, a small coastal town. I’d read that, like so much of the world, it was better before it was discovered, but that it was still lovely. We made it our lunch goal.
We found Cadequez to be a fishing village turned busy holiday destination. It’s roads were still too narrow to handle the traffic, and mopeds zoomed everywhere. But we liked it. We selected a restaurant from one of our many guide resources and had a pleasant lunch. Then we explored the water’s edge, dipping our toes into the Mediterranean.
On my list was the lighthouse at Cape Creus, just up the coast from Cadequez. So we hopped back into the peoplemover and found the right road.
This turned out to be the coastal mate to the road to Vic — narrow, winding, and hilly. But the terrain was drastically different. In place of trees and lush underbrush we drove through a rocky terrain dotted with scrub and cacti.
At the end of this asphault ribbon we found the Cap Crues lighthouse(s). A modern structure with a visitor’s center nstood back from the edge of the rocky point. Out at the end of a treacherous looking path stood an older light — presumably the original. The views out across the sea and up and down the coast were breathtaking, and we absorbed them for a while, until we tired of the constant wind.
Back in the peoplemover we retraced our drive, this time behind a huge bus. I liked this arrangement as it provided an excuse to go slower than the typically irrational speed. Eventually we reached the valley north of Roses, a big resort town. We skirted it, using local roads to work our way south along the coast to our next hotel in Aiguablava, near Begur.
Friday, June 15
Frigidarium, Tepidarium, Caldarium
Checking in at the Parador Aiguablava was challenging. We needed to convey that we were there for two nights and that tomorrow our friend would be joining us. We decided to try to deal with different staff next time. Our room over looking the protected inlet more than made up for it.
Antonia had asked her friend and student Alex to recommend restaurants in the area for us. He provided yet another Spanish map — a hand-drawn diagram of the area with restaurants and notes. We picked his highest recommendation for dinner. (We later learned that, upon hearing we had reserved at Aiguablava, he had called the Parador to confirm our rooms. Apparently the hotel books solid a year in advance and our getting rooms three months in advance was a miracle).
At the hotel restaurant in Sa Tuna we took a table on a paved terrace overlooking the beach. Sa Tuna (“Sa,” we later learned, means “by the sea”) was a tiny version of Cadequez — stucco and stone houses stacked up on the hillside, fishing boats pulled up on the sand, rocky outcroppings protecting the tiny harbor.
Our dinner was wonderful, and afterward we looked at one of the hotel’s tidy rooms. We could imagine spending a few days here, taking daily road trips to the local sites and dining on the beach each evening.
Friday morning we headed first for a market, thinking of the goodies we always buy at the Parisian variety. But this Spanish market had more basics and less luxuries. So we moved on to Empuriabrava.
Ever since touring Turkey I have sought to visit Roman baths in every old world country I visit. Even Paris has it’s excavated ruins. We’d seen the Roman foundations in Barcelona, but now we paid the admission to wander Empuries, the Costa Brava’s Greek and Roman site.
The Greeks came first and settled by the water in this pleasant bay. The Romans followed and built their settlement inland from the Greeks. Archaeologists have uncovered, and to some extent re-built, large portions of both settlements. Detailed mosaic floors were visible in houses in both sections. I was beginning to despair of finding the baths, when I realized that a large area where archaeologists were actually working was, in fact, the baths.
It was a warm, windy day. The ancient dust being kicked up wore us down, so we headed for Girona to meet Antonia.
Antonia was coming by train, and we were to meet her at “the bar across from the train station.” Our first challenge was finding the train station. We’d become so accustomed to small towns and villages where it was possible to simply follow the railroad tracks to the station, Girona took us by surprise.
We zoomed around in traffic, spotting the elevated rails between buildings down one-way streets. Finally we got beneath them and spotted a platform above and a parking lot below. Abandoning the peoplemover in a tiny space, we walked over to the station. It featured cafes and shops, multiple ticket counters, and an adjacent bus station. It did not feature a bar across the street.
I tried calling Antonia’s cel phone and was answered by a deep male voice. We wandered, growing irritable. Stepping back out the way we’d first entered, I glanced to the right and saw Antonia sitting on the ground with her back to the wall.
“There’s no bar!” we both laughed.
After a stop to buy pottery (“I don’t need anything. Oh, isn’t this cute!”) we returned to Aiguablava where Antonia was to take our room and we were to move into the “deluxe” room that had been the only available room that night.
I knew that the “deluxe” room, which cost about $50 more (which is why we hadn’t booked it for both nights) had a jacuzzi. I did not expect the private gym.
Okay, so it wasn’t a big gym, but it had one of those butt jigglers that I thought only existed in the 1940s. Andrew declared that he liked the other room better, but I was amused by the gym, liked the jacuzzi, and loved the view.
We had liked our dinner the night before so much we decided to take Antonia back to Sa Tuna. We were seated by the sea when the hostess came over and crouched by Andrew’s chair.
“Last night when you were here,” she said, “your credit card did not go through. Do you, um, think it would be possible for you to pay for it tonight?”
It seemed that Andrew’s American Express Skymiles card had not looked like an Amex card. Neither the hostess nor Andrew had looked closely at the slip he signed, which clearly indicated that the charge had not been processed. The restaurant didn’t take American Express.
Of course he agreed to pay, and complimentary sparkleing cava arrived at our table. We had another lovely meal, but I had to call an end to the evening when the mosquitos were eating me alive.
Back at the hotel we entered our rooms to find a huge surprise: In Antonia’s room the maid had turned down the bed. In our room, she’d arranged our pajamas (which we’d left out) in poses on the bed.
Saturday, June 16
In the morning we checked out and drove to Empuriabrava, a big man-made marian complex where Antonia’s friend and student Josep kept his boat. In fact, Josep and Isobel had a small weekend house in Empuriabrava with their boat docked out back.
Josep and I had exchanged email over the previous few weeks, and we were both enthusiastic about meeting for a sail. Their boat, Certio, was a Wuyaquez, similar to the one I’d chartered in Antigua in November 2000.
Josep and Isobel locked up the house and we settled in aboard Certio for a short sail. Josep offered the option of racing in the weekly race that was just starting, or just sailing. He observed that they always come in last. Since that would be about the same experience as racing on Bright Star in New York, we agreed to just go for a sail.
One of my motivations for visiting Barcelona was a Time magazine profile of a Catalan chef that I read in the fall of 2000. His restaurant, “near Barcelona,” was characterized as a foodie pilgrimage site with a menu so inventive that every review said something like this: “ignore the descriptions and try it, it’s amazing.”
It turned out that “neear Barcelona” meant a couple hours north in Roses. Fortunately, our itinierary took us to that part of the coast. Unfortunately, although I tried two months in advance of our trip, I was unable to get a resrevation in the tiny El Bulli. In the end we settled for sailing by the tiny bay where it is located and dining on wild boar at a lovely local restaurant in a former farm house.
From there we hit the highway back to Barcelona, where Antonia put us up for our final night.
We were sorry to head for the airport in the morning. Barcelona, and Antonia and all her lovely friends, will certainly see more of us!