We’ve just got back from our weekend on the other side of the Pyrénées, and I’ve decided to post these ‘postcards’ to show a few happy days in Sant Cugat del Vallès, the very attractive town where Emily is now working; the not-Hallowe’en-but- la Castañada festivities; and a relaxing weekend.
Eating and drinking were important. Straight away, as we drove across the mist and rain shrouded Pyrénées from France, there was a decision to be made. Lunch on this side of the border? You can’t get fed much later than 12.30 here. Or wait till Spain? Nothing there is open much before 2.00 p.m.
We arrived in Catalonia just in time for la Castañada. Instead of Hallowe’en, they commemorate All Souls’ Tide. Roasted chestnuts are sold wrapped in cones of newspaper with roasted sweet potatoes and peddled from impromptu stalls, or by excited groups of children. Panellets are mashed potato, sugar syrup and ground almonds – maybe cocoa or dried fruits too, rolled in pine nuts and briefly baked till the nuts turn golden. It sounds odd, but they’re delicious accompanied by a shot of strong black coffee.
Coffee shops, with tables outside so you can enjoy the late October heat seem to be in every street, and we adjusted our bodies to Spain’s very different rhythms. Food generally seems cheaper in Spain. A pleasant pause for breakfast, after taking the children to school, after shopping or work, or just because it’s a nice idea and the sun is shining is an affordable treat, and cafés don’t seem to struggle for custom. Nor do lunch-stops. As in France, the 3 course lunch with wine and coffee is on offer in most restaurants, but cheaper here. And it’s a leisurely affair. We found ourselves spending an hour or two every day that we were there over the lunch table, eating, talking and simply people-watching.
Shopping seems less anonymous too. Whether in St. Cugat, or city-centre Barcelona, greengrocers and grocers, wine merchants and bakers – especially bakers – all seemed to be doing brisk business. The out-of-town supermarkets are there alright, but so far, they don’t seem to have won.
So here are my postcards. Have a glance at them over a lazy cup of coffee.