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Barcelona, Tapas and Las Ramblas

October 26th, 2008 by
Day 4-5

I arrive in Barcelona just in time for siesta (4-6pm or so). My hotel couldn’t be better located, about 2 blocks from the Las Ramblas (an avenue of 5 streets filled with shops, outdoor cafes and other attractions) and a 2 Euro taxi ride from the train station. The Hotel Meson Castilla is a 100+ year old home converted to hotel, so has lots of quirky charm – my room is tiny with a door that opens to a courtyard of sorts for fresh air. Perfectly acceptable and quiet.
When I finally venture out, the crowds are overwhelming. As are the shops. It will be tough to decide, do I shop? Or do I sightsee? Well, tonight – I shop…then a late dinner of salad caprese (fresh tomatoes layered with mozzarella cheese and drizzled with pesto) followed by Paella, a Catalan specialty of saffron rice with squid, chicken, sausage, whole langostino and vegetables. Topped off with a caramel flan (known locally as crema Catalan as it originated here) and whipped cream. Yum.

My only full day in Barcelona starts out slowly, as I’m feeling the ravages of the 12km walk yesterday. I get my bearings by shopping – at the Les Corte Inglés. This is the largest department store I think I’ve ever been in – I stopped at the 9th floor (but it went on). They have everything from dog food to designer handbags and pianos. My purchase – a set of castañuelas (castanets – a traditional Spanish musical instrument used by flamenco dancers) and a harmonica for my sons. The clerk tells me in halting English that he is from Cuba and his family lives in Miami.

Next stop, lunch! My goal is still to visit a few attractions – the Picasso Museum and maybe the Sagrada Familia (Guadi’s unfinished cathedral), but my energy is still lagging.
Tapas (little meals) are perfect for this time of day – so I try a little Tapas bar just next to the Barcelona Cathedral. I feel a little silly taking pictures of my meals, but – hey! I’m an American…so no one notices. Cod Croquettes, Greek salad and bread rubbed with olive oil and tomatoes go down well with the local drink – beer and lemonaid. This is certainly a better version of beer – light and refreshing.

It’s only a few blocks now to the Picasso Museum. I’m not really a big fan of his cubist art, but the exhibit is a revelation. The progression of his art from the tender age of 14-15 (his portraits and classical art at this age are breathtaking) to his later years is fascinating – well worth the visit. Afterwards, in search of a Metro station – which seems to elude me – takes me to the port then to the monument of Christopher Columbus (the plaque is engraved En Connenoracion del IV Centenarid del Descubriniento de America – roughly translated – “In Commemoration of the 400th year Anniversary of the Discovery of America”) Come to think of it, some of us owe our very existence to Spain! This marks the entrance to Las Rambles. I forgo all other plans and stroll the wide avenue; an utterly unique experience. This is part carnival, part social commentary and completely Spanish. The flower stalls are overflowing with color (some of these stalls have been owned and operated by the same families for years) – and the outdoor market! Such an abundance of perfectly ripe fruit and vegetables, whole fish of every variety, ham and cured meats hanging evenly, candy, chocolate – you name it – even egg shops, dried chili stalls and a live rabbit & chicken vendor.

I take the siesta again today…then finish the evening at a hole in the wall with lamb crispy lamb shawarma and falafel pita. It’s after 11 pm – so I head back for my last night. Have to get up early tomorrow for the 7 am flight to Malaga!

October 25th, 2008 by

Day 4
Determined to make the most of my last day, I wake early (it’s still dark) at 7 am and stumble down to the lobby. My hosts for the evening are cheerful and welcoming with a steaming cup of coffee and croissant (very flakey and even warm). Today I hope to complete the walk from Berger back to Calella de Palfrugell by around 2 pm. That’s 12km, but Ashley says it is a MUST do and the most spectacular day’s walk.

As I set off I wonder if this was the day to dress in a T shirt and shorts. The wind is whipping over the hill and is a bit chilly (maybe around 55 F), but I hope it warms up as I go.
My reward comes quickly, as 1 hour into the walk after a gentle stroll through pines and past stunning villas mostly on the GR 92, I descend into the charming seaside village of Tamariu. It’s a picturesque scene, where I sit under the tamarisk trees (from which the town takes its name) and gaze out over the small cove surrounded by rocky cliffs. A couple is swimming at the beach, so obviously, it’s warmed up a bit.

No time to dawdle though, as I see my stamina will now be tested.

The path takes off ON THE ROCKY CLIFF! I almost went the wrong way, thinking there was NO WAY, but somehow if you look closely there IS a path and steps and it is possible to walk around the edge of the bay.

Amazing views as I walk for about 2 hours along the Mediterranean coast, across some sections actually waymarked on large boulders against crashing surf and up then up through pine covered forests. Almost every turn is breathtaking, with constant views of the crystal blue horizon. Maybe even vertigo producing views! You wouldn’t want to walk the route at dusk as there are steep overhangs over deep crevasse crashing with the surf. I can’t even think of another place of more beauty and solitude.

As I finish a particularly tough section – zig zagging straight down a sheer cliff (there are fences strategically placed to hold on to and very well waymarked) – and come down (again) to a very private beach on the stunning cove of Cala Pedrosa, I meet the first walkers (and only) I will see all day. They are British and we share a few hints about what’s ahead (they tell me I have along way to go! Which I dismiss, only to discover is CORRECT. I tell them they have a directly uphill walk for 30 minutes or more – but it is WORTH IT!). I hope they made it.

Finally, a long and winding climb back up (okay, now I’m noticing that extra 30 lbs) till I reach the lighthouse at Sant Sebastia. Never been so happy to see a bathroom (Hotel El Far has an enviable location at the top of the cliff overlooking the Mediterranean). It’s only a short few feet to the overlook on Calella de Palfrugell, which is possibly the highlight of the entire walk, as the honey colored villages and absolutely stunning beaches and marinas filled with boats extend as far as the eye can see. I glimpse the Hotel Garbi overlooking it all in the distance. It looks like about 15 minutes away (turns out to be over an hour!). When I make the final ascent to the hotel, they are waiting with my luggage and a hot shower. Can’t really describe how that felt!
So I made it by 2 pm (by a margin of 30 min) and Ashley takes me back to Flaca train station for the direct train to Barcelona. I thank him for his sincere hospitality as I board the train for the next phase of my journey – Barcelona!

Dali – Madman or Genius?

October 24th, 2008 by

Day 3 – This is normally a “stay put” day, so there is the option to relax by the pool or take a short 2 mile walk into La Bisbal. Here is a picture of the hotel.

It’s a bit rainy today, so I take a side trip (courtesy of Ashley, he is a gem) to Figueres to see the Dali Museum. This is a fascinating, not to be missed experience, even if the circular layout and mostly bizarre experience (he was a surrealist after all) left me a bit dizzy. The jewelry exhibit was my favorite (the ruby encrusted beating heart takes you by surprise).

Then off to take a look at the cycling hotels in L’Escale (right on the ocean, the pool looks like it is floating in the Med) and a truly charming farm house hotel in Baseia. We pull up to my nights accommodation in the heart of Berger around 4 pm. The town is small and quiet, with a nice selection of shops. I have a few conversations (well, okay, I point to my translator book and try to ask a few questions, quite successfully I might add) and sit in a little bar having a glass of wine. No body seems to notice me. I think I look very Spanish (did I mention that several people have asked ME for directions so far!)

Dinner is fantastic. A spoonful of lentil salad and very subtle fish broth, followed by warm goat cheese salad and fillet of cod with a wonderful mushroom cream sauce…a very light dessert of fresh apple flan. I’ve got to get up early tomorrow and make the 8 mi walk to Calella by 2 pm, rumor is this is the most spectacular walk of the week (walking from the Berger along the Med to Callela).

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