Tag Archives: Spain

To Barcelona, Part 3

Part 3, continued from part 2 Between that and my cold, I got a very poor night’s rest. After breakfast I went back to sleep until it was time to check out and move on. We reached our destination around 2 pm. Javier met us and let us into the apartment where Enrico will be Read More…

Part 3, continued from part 2

Between that and my cold, I got a very poor night’s rest. After breakfast I went back to sleep until it was time to check out and move on. We reached our destination around 2 pm. Javier met us and let us into the apartment where Enrico will be staying for the month, near his own home in Sant Cugat, a small town within easy commuting distance of Barcelona. Once we’d dumped our stuff, he took us back to his place, where Maria gave us an excellent lunch of lentils with sausage and sliced beef with a garlic-onion sauce (though the meal was great, she apologized for the lack of fresh vegetables – they had just returned themselves from visiting relatives for Easter).

That evening we walked around Sant Cugat and had a meal of tapas and salad at a small bar/restaurant. We deliberately sat in front of the sliding glass door, to get as much fresh air as possible. Spain’s recent anti-smoking law permits smaller establishments to choose whether to allow smoking, while larger ones must create a separate smoking section. Since most restaurants and bars aren’t very big, in practice this means that very little has changed: few have decided to go non-smoking, and the Spanish smoke even more than the Italians used to. So it’s difficult to find a restaurant not full of smoke, and in my lung-congested state this was even less appealing than usual.

The next morning we met Javier at the Sant Cugat station to take the commuter train to Barcelona. We first went to the math department where Enrico will be working and saw him settled into an office etc. Ross and I did a bit of shopping, then bought tickets at Plaça Catalunya for the Bus Turistica.

This costs 22 euros for a two-day pass (they give you a book of discounts to various things, some of them useful). It would probably have been cheaper and more flexible to get a day pass for the subway, but the weather was gorgeous and I was still feeling very tired and coldy, so riding around in the sun on the open upper deck of a bus was very appealing. You can get on and off the bus at any stop, but, to really see everything efficiently, you need to plan the trip better than we did.

Enrico joined us and we set off on the ruta sud (southern route), which actually first went north up the big avenue where the two famous Gaudí houses are located, then around to the west west and down to the waterfront. We stopped at Maremagnum, a shiny new shopping mall, mainly to use the restrooms, then walked up to La Rambla, looking for lunch.

La Rambla was the wrong place. The cafés with sidewalk tables are all horrible tourist traps, and so was the restaurant we eventually chose – they wanted to charge us 45 euros for a mixed plate of tapas for two. We don’t mind paying well for good food, but paying too much for mediocre food is deeply irritating. We selected the cheapest things on the menu. I had fried eggs with french fries and chorizo – the latter being good, I probably had the best meal of the three of us.

Travel Tip: Don’t eat in touristy areas, especially not La Rambla.

continues in part 4

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 Read More…

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