Valencia – Barcelona – home

This was a weekend of travel.  Of packing up and leaving my temporary home in Valencia and catching a coach to Barcelona (there was some kind of disruption on the rail network which I was keen to avoid).

A view from the coach

I was a little anxious about Barcelona.  Every day for a fortnight, I’d watched the evening news on TV with my hostess.  Every day for a fortnight the situation in Catalonia had been top of the agenda, for a good twenty minutes or so.  There were pictures of massed placards, of disaffected locals chuntering volubly into microphones, of city fountains running in Catalonia’s colour of yellow.

Yes! It’s time.

I arrived in a city where everyone was enjoying a normal sunny Saturday, Spanish style.  There were flags and posters certainly, but mainly concentrated in various hotspots.  Catalonia’s been keen on nationalist flags for years in any case. What was (not) going on?  ‘You’ve been watching Telecinco?’ howled Emily and Miquel, leaving me in little doubt that this less-than-even-handed commercial channel is the Daily Mail of the Spanish airwaves.

I don’t feel qualified to comment on what’s going on in Catalonia.  But it does seem an awful lot like Brexit.  Nobody is going to be happy whatever happens.  Families and friends are divided.  Hatred is legitimised.  It’s a mess.

Still, I was there just to catch up with Emily and Miquel before flying home.  To join the crowds of locals enjoying the warm autumn weather, calling in for a drink at a bar every now and then, before later, much later, having a convivial meal in a thoroughly convivial restaurant.

Dancing in the street in Gràcia on Saturday evening.

On Sunday, a bit more of the same, with Miquel’s family this time, before flying back to a windy Leeds, where the temperature was a mere 23 degrees colder than it had been in Valencia in the middle of the week.

Barcelona skyline from Miquel and Emily’s flat, Can you spot la Sagrada Familia?

And this week?  I’m doing as little as possible.  Exhaustion has set in.

Snapshot Saturday: an unusual and holy kitchen appliance

As far as blogging goes, I’m still in Barcelona: though in reality I’m snuggled in a cosy jumper looking upwards as a grey sky turns greyer.

In Barcelona, we visited the Monasterio de Pedralbes.  It’s not actually a monastery, because no monk has ever lived there.  It’s a priory, built in 1326 by King James of Aragon for his wife Elisenda de Montcada, who wished to found a community of Poor Clares there.  Poor Clares?  These are nuns who devote themselves to a life of simplicity and prayer, and in Elisenda’s time were almost always drawn from the ranks of the aristocracy.  She herself never became a nun, but she was very real presence in the life of this community.

And what a fine place it is.  A graceful three-storied cloister surrounds a peaceful garden.  Here is a fountain, topped off with a rather cheeky looking angel.  This is where the nuns would wash their hands before dining in silence in the refectory, while devotional works were read to them from a pulpit.

But it’s the kitchen I’d like to show you.   In its day, this was a state-of-the-art workroom. Who wouldn’t like to cook at this unusual kitchen range, supervised by Saint Anthony?  Look at these fine sinks, dating from about 1520.  There are bread ovens, tiled worktops, and it was here that the simple diet of the nuns was prepared: fresh and salted fish, pulses, rice, vegetables and fruit.  Meat was reserved for festivities.

Saint Anthony’s range cooker.

 

A double drainer kitchen sink, without constant running hot water.

This is another of Barcelona’s hardly-discovered treasures.  Just a couple of school parties there, and once they’d gone, we had the place almost to ourselves.  Put this on your must-visit list too.

This post is my response to this week’s WordPress photo challenge: ‘unusual’.

 

From Pennines to Pyrenees

We’ve crossed the Pyrenees again.  To visit our daughter in Barcelona.

A view of Barcelona from Port Vell.
A view of Barcelona from Port Vell.

And then we shall cross them back again.  To visit our friends in Laroque d’Olmes.

A view of the Pyrenees from between Laroque and Foix
A view of the Pyrenees from between Laroque and Foix

We’ll be in touch when we get back to England again.

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is a bit of a grumpy day for me.  Nothing festive happens.  It’s just the day for dismantling the Christmas tree, packing baubles and Christmas wreaths away for another year, and reading through Christmas cards from old friends for the last time before they’re taken off to some recycling point.  The house looks sparse and bare, and maybe in need of a spring-clean.

I think of Emily over in Barcelona. She’s not at work today because Twelfth Night is Epiphany.  It’s the day on which Spanish children at last get their Christmas gifts, because the Day of the Three Kings is when legend has it that the Magi presented their gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus.  As Emily points out, the main downside to this late arrival of gifts is that this is the very last day of the holidays: school tomorrow, and no time to get to play with those new toys.  Still, today is another chance to party and enjoy a family feast.

Our caganer is clockwork.  He does back-flips.
Our caganer is clockwork. He does back-flips.

It was Emily who may have been responsible for our finding ‘el caganer’ in our Christmas stocking this year.  If your Catalan isn’t up to translating this, let me explain.  It means, um, ‘the crapper’. El caganer is a little fellow in Catalan costume, squatting with his trousers down, and defecating.  Why?  Well, he’s a traditional part of Catalan nativity scenes. Maybe he’s a fertility symbol.  Most people these days prefer the idea that it shows that great or small, we all have the same very basic needs.

Caganers on a market stall.  Anybody you recognise here?
Caganers on a market stall. Anybody you recognise here? (Wikimedia Commons)

So these days at any street market, you can buy caganer figures who represent the Pope, the Queen, Barack Obama, a whole range of footballers – any personality you can think of.  And they’re just the same as us.  Even if it’s Twelfth Night, I don’t think I’ll pack away our little ‘el caganer’ just yet.

Galette des rois, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Galette des rois, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
A dusty miller.
A dusty miller. (Wikimedia Commons)

And when we lived in France, Epiphany was the start of the Galette des Rois season.  As guests anywhere, you’ll be sure to be offered a slice of this almondy pastry confection.  Part of you wants the good luck of being the person to find the ‘fève’ within your slice.  This used to be a lucky bean, making you king for the day.  Nowadays it’s a small china figurine, and maybe quite collectable.  I’ve just been looking unsuccessfully for our little fireman ‘fève’: goodness knows where I’ve hidden him .  The downside of finding the lucky bean though,  is that it’s your turn to make the galette next time round.

Parts of Europe seem to be having fun.  Ho hum.  Here, it’s all too easy to be aware that there’s January to get through before we can think of the days lengthening and the arrival of Spring.

The Bunkers of Barcelona

No sooner back from England, than we were making tracks for Barcelona.

Why?  To help daughter Emily and her flat-mate move.

A trailer load Barcelona-bound
A trailer load Barcelona-bound
Saturday saw us leave Laroque with a large and unwieldy trailer load of cast-offs for Emily and her flat-mate’s new home. Two beds and mattresses, a table, a blanket box, a linen basket, a bike, ephemera from the kitchen, all kinds of detritus.  We’d spent an afternoon on Friday packing the load, carefully, and with lots of thought and planning.  Ten minutes after we set off on Saturday, it became unstable.  We stopped and rejigged, went on a few miles… and more of the same.  It started to rain, with quite high winds.  We stopped a third time, bought more rope (OK, washing line.  It’s all we could find), really had a good go at things, and finally, we had a steady load that got us all the way to Barcelona, in said wind and rain, as far as the frontier.  Hooray!  In Spain, the sun shone.
In Barcelona, we unloaded, unpacked, fetched and carried, and did our best to get the new flat …er …  ship-shape.  Sunday morning, while the girls played house, Malcolm and I were off duty.  What to discover today?  Well, look one way from the street outside her flat, and you’ll see far below you, the sea.

Yes, that's the sea down there.
Yes, that’s the sea down there.

Look the other way, and you’ll see far above you…. bunkers.

Bunkers above
Bunkers above

Those bunkers are among Barcelona’s lesser known secrets, and they looked intriguing.  It’s a toughish climb up there, but stop for breath, and your reward is increasingly dramatic views of the city spread far below you.

View part way up.
View part way up.
At the top, there are battered concrete remains: the bunkers that were built by Spanish Republican forces in 1937 in their efforts to defend the city.  Little could be done against the air power of the Nationalists.  The Republicans were under-resourced, and their best hope was to use this high vantage point as both a look-out,and a place from which to launch protective curtains of artillery fire.
Once peace was restored, the bunkers came into use once more: a chronic housing shortage in the city meant that right up until the 1990’s, the site developed into a shanty town, housing up to 600 residents, though the council resisted providing services such as water and refuse disposal until well into the 1980’s.  Remnants of this improvised town can still be seen in vestiges of tiled floors.
Now, you’re most likely to make the trek up here to get the very best views of the city: better than from Tibidabo.  It’s not the view those Republican forces saw.  From up here at La Rovira, you look down on a modern city: recent tower blocks dwarf the older buildings, though your attention will always be caught by the spires of la Sagrada Familia, still under construction.  A highly-recommended excursion.  Get yourselves there before everyone discovers it.

Climb down again: this is what you see.
Climb down again: this is what you see.

Postcards from Girona 2

I knew I’d be writing at least one more post about Girona.  In my mind I’d plotted a quick run through the city’s exciting history, or an art history essay about one or more of the churches perhaps.  In the end though, you can get these things from any guide book, or by questioning the search engine of your choice.  What I’d like you to do is to plan a visit if you don’t know the city already, or to suggest other places to explore here if you do.

We’ve enjoyed pounding the streets.  Look up, or down as you’re walking, and you’ll find some gem worth your attention.  We’ve enjoyed finding little bars and making them our own for an early breakfast or a mid-morning coffee stop.  It’s astonishing how many Catalans seem to need a caffeine-rush before, during or after the daily grind.    Nor is it simply tourists who hunt for restaurants with outside tables and just enough shade to keep cool and comfortable: for the Spanish, irritatingly, being outside means chain-smoking too.

Churches mean the chance to explore centuries of fascinating history.  We passed almost an entire afternoon in Sant Feliu and then the Cathedral: and more or less accidentally discovered the outside of another- Sant Domènec, and the interior of one more – Santa Susanna.

We enjoyed our visit to the Arab Baths, the 12th century descendants of the Roman bath house, and antecedent of baths such as our own familiar Turkish baths in Harrogate.

Oooh, but it was tiring.  How good it was to end each day relaxing over a meal, people watching in the evening warmth, before strolling back through Devesa park  to our hotel, perchance to sleep.

Postcards from Girona

We had a mid-week break in Girona last week.  Because I needed the dentist.

Despite the general all-round good quality of the French health system (though it’s not what it was), dentistry does not on the whole measure up.  Ask anybody round here to recommend a dentist, and they’ll either say ‘not mine, definitely not mine’, or suggest someone miles and miles away with a weeks long waiting list.

So when my daughter over in Barcelona recommended her dentist in nearby Girona, it seemed too good a chance to miss.  A quick holiday in a town on the ‘to-visit’ list, a chance to see Emily, and a pain-free set of teeth.

The dentist there sorted things out, but said he’d need to see me again.  So we realised we didn’t need to dash round on some frenzied must-see-everything-double-quick self-imposed tour.  We took our time.  We wandered up and down the narrow stairways that make up the ancient Jewish quarter, walked the old city walls, and spent time in the cool shaded Jardins d’Alemanys.  There was time for an early morning coffee, a relaxed meal, a cool beer in shady squares among the narrow back streets.

In its day Girona has been invaded by Romans, Muslims, Franks, enduring over 30 sieges in 800 years.  As Robin Gauldie, travel writer says: ‘It’s like Barcelona in miniature, with all the history, heritage and great food but without the insane traffic’.  We don’t need the excuse of a toothache to go back.  There are churches to visit, museums to explore, gardens to relax in, meals to enjoy.  There are riverside walks, and the countryside beyond.  So much to do and see, but all within walking distance of the ancient city centre.  Roll on my next dental appointment.

To view any of the pictures in a larger format, simply click on the image.