To Barcelona, Part 2

Part 2, continued from part 1

We stayed that night at a chain hotel in the suburbs of Nîmes. I was amused to note that French suburbs look exactly like American ones, with strip malls, motels, and fast-food joints (and many more MacDonald’s than we have in Italy). The main difference is that the signs are in French.

Easter Sunday started with a panic: we were almost out of gas, and couldn’t find a manned, open gas station. There were some automated ones, but they would not take cash, only French bank or credit cards (at least they had signs saying so). We drove around in a state of increasing nerves and bad temper for nearly an hour before finally finding a BP station with a live cashier.

Travel Tip: Always be sure to fill the gas tank the day BEFORE any major holiday.

After that, we were so irritated with N̨mes that we did not, after all, stop to see its perfectly-preserved Roman arena, but drove on to Spain. Somewhere along the way we ate the remains of our pat̩ and cheese at a roadside rest stop, along with a fresh baguette purchased at a truck stop Рone thing to be said for France is that it is impossible NOT to find a fresh baguette, any day of the year.

At the truck stop I saw a lovely scene that I will forever regret not being quick enough to photograph: a burly, pot-bellied trucker in a muscle shirt and shorts, seated at a table in front of his huge truck, lovingly grooming a tiny Yorkshire terrier.

There is now no passport control at the France-Spain border, though the structures still exist and everyone slowed down on the French sides, for reasons unclear. Of course the highway signs all changed language, which caused me to reflect that, in a world with no political boundaries, such abrupt changes would be highly artificial – rather than sharply split languages, we would likely see a continuum of dialects. The Catalans protest that Castillian Spanish is an “imposed idiom” in their region, but I couldn’t detect a huge difference between the two. My impression was later confirmed by Enrico’s mathematical colleagues, Javier and Maria, who are not originally from Catalunya but said they could understand the language perfectly after only a few months there. Their three daughters are schooled in Catalan, with Spanish and English as secondary languages.

We spent the night in San Feliu de Guixols, at the Eden Roc hotel, whose claims to fame are a stunning location on top of big red rocks on the sea, easy access to golf and tennis, and an attached “health center” offering massages, sauna, ayurvedic treatments, etc. This last interested me, but the center was booked solid, so we didn’t get to enjoy any of these services. The hotel owner gave us a discount to compensate for this disappointment, and warmly urged us to come back again. The included buffet dinner was good, the included breakfast somewhat less so (awful coffee – it takes a lot to make up for that).

The bed, or rather, the bed/pillow combination, was also uncomfortable. American hotels give you so many pillows that you have to push some of them off the bed to make room to sleep. Most European hotels (at least in the categories we can afford) give you one pillow, so flat as to be nearly non-existent. I sleep on my side, and these pillows don’t give me enough lift to get the weight off my shoulder joint, so I get very sore. I guess I will have to start bringing my own pillow – something I have seen Americans inexplicably do even at well-stocked American hotels!

Travel Tip: If you’re fussy about sleeping comfort, bring your own pillow.

go on to part 3

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