On our last morning, we left Llafranc at 6:15 am complete with a picnic, courtesy of the hotel. Our 45 minute trip to Girona airport turned into an hour and half adventure when the satnav happily directed us into the middle of a small village with no airport in sight. Frantic re-tracing of steps and panicky driving up and down the nearest main road finally saw us at the airport with a huge sigh of relief!
Next challenge – the wine in our suitcase took us over the limit and excess baggage fares were paid. We will be much better prepared the next time – cabin luggage for both of us, read the small print on the car hire agreement and six nights would suffice!
If Matt persists in wanting a Fiat 500 at least the journey to Cambridge is flat! Hills had to be taken at a run otherwise the was a chance it would grind to a halt, halfway up.
Smoking – any drink or food order on a terrace came with an ashtray. It feels like the Catalans and/or Spanish find smoking more socially acceptable than the English do.
We left Girona in warm sunshine and arrived back to a cold, wet Stanstead. A winter spent in Spain is a very appealing thought.
We’d definitely go back, we’d stay in the same hotel but might spend a couple of days in Barcelona or Girona first.
Ok, the spelling and pronunciation may be different but Banyoles was calling to John.
The town’s claim to fame, is the lake which hosted the rowing events during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and 2004 Rowing World Championships.
Set in the Girona Pyrenees, the backdrop to the lake is fairly spectacular and the water crystal clear.
We drove round the lake and it looks like a great place for walking and cycling. We visited the Tourist Information office had a short walk into town before the drive back. We were surprised to see wide channels alongside the roads in the town which were filled with clear, still water. It would be amazing if our mill stream looked the same!. A lot of the worlds top cyclists live in the area, as it’s a dry climate with lots of hills for training.
Although Banyoles is very nice it doesn’t have quite the same call as our beloved Bagnoles.
During lunch we were talking to an eclectic mix of people in a Tapas bar including an English lady, a Scandinavian and an American lady who have lived in a valley near Perpignan in the South of France for many years. Apparently there is a thriving Ex-Pat community in the area, but rather than being English it’s a mixture of different nationals brought together by the local U3A group
We’ve really struggled with the language while we’ve been here. The Spanish Dictionary has been no match for Catalan. If anyone can tell us what ‘peu’ is and translate this sign, we’d be grateful
We didn’t make it into Girona which was a shame, we were only a couple of miles away, but a final afternoon on the beach was calling to us.
Early start for Barcelona today, and by early we mean before 9:30! Hours of research, and debate,(should we get the train or drive, do we leave it for visit etc.) helped us decide what to do!
The little Fiat made it up all the hills and we were there in under two hours. Our first challenge was to park, and that was a challenge! The satnav was fantastic, taking us to a car park only 25 yards from where we wanted to be, if only we didn’t keep missing the turnings! The car park was very clever, there were little LED lights above each parking space, red if the space is occupied and green if its vacant, so you can glance down a whole row of cars and easily see if there are any spaces. Barcelona is full of typical city drivers, dithering is not tolerated and neither is being in the wrong lane! One advantage of the little Fiat is that it has a great turning circle so we can execute U turns easily.
John made a new friend in the cycle hire shop. Christie was explaining that she had to burn incense to take away the smell that greets her when she opens up the sea front shop. As you can imagine, the beach is a popular place at night but sadly lacking in public toilets! John described the toilets he’s seen in Ostende that pop-up out of the ground during the evening and disappear under the ground during the day. She was delighted when he showed her photos!
Cycling in Barcelona is surprisingly easy, it has over 100km of cycle routes. The only trouble is you have to find one first. That challenge was too great for us, so we stopped for an early lunch whilst we got our bearings. Freshly made coffee, tea with unlimited top-ups and a slice of tuna tortilla big enough to share served with tomato bread – all for under €10. The guide books advise eating off the tourist routes and this was a great find.
Our destination was the famous Sagrada Familia. Spanish architect Gaudi’s designs and use of colour have been used as inspiration in many gardening programmes over the years so Kim was determined to see what it was all about. We stopped in a square to try and get our bearings and a lovely Spanish lady offered to help. She looked horrified when we said where we were going and told us we ought to drive! Not to be deterred, we headed off and found ourselves, quite by accident, on a cycle route, right through the Arc de Triomph!
There was no stopping us, 20 minutes later we were dwarfed by Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Described as the eight wonder of the world, it’s breathtakingly beautiful, and that’s just from the outside!
We didn’t have the patience to queue for tickets so the inside will have to wait for our next visit.
We cycled back to the coast via Los Ramblas, Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping area which is full of market stalls, eateries and hundreds of people. It was hard work pushing the bikes through and wasn’t an area that appealed to us. Our final landmark was the Marina area which has been built on reclaimed land with a network of floating boardwalks. It would have been great to explore but our time was up if we wanted to leave the City before the rush hour.
Barcelona definitely needs to go on the list for a 2-3 day city break – if the culture becomes too much, you can always escape to the beach!
Rather than take the motorway back, we headed out along the coast road as far as Pineda de Mar.
The route was straight and flat, very different to the scenery we’ve experienced so far. We drove through several beach side resorts and it all looked a bit grim and run down. Most of the buildings had seen better days and many were boarded up and used as graffiti targets. Other than out to sea, there were no beautiful views of rolling countryside.
For most of the route, the railway ran between us and the beach like a very long fence making it rather a challenge to get to the actual beach. Eventually we worked out that a series of underpasses get you there but were not readily signposted. On a positive note, the train journey must be fantastic and needs to be added to the to-do list as well
Fuel was needed and filling up is done the old fashioned way, a fuel attendant does it all for you and €25 seems enough to fill the car up.
Can you guess which one is our hire car?
You may notice the quality of our Blog go up a notch, that’s because we are now using the writing desk in our new room.
We booked this break on a budget and chose the cheapest room we could find. The hotel couldn’t be better but our room was small and overlooked a tiny internal courtyard. Efforts had been made to make it look attractive but you couldn’t hide the fact that the main reason for the courtyard was to vent the air conditioning!
We decided to spend our last few nights in a room with a sea view and a balcony. The only problem is the rain has set in and temperatures have dropped. No wine for us on the balcony tonight!
Today’s challenge was the 1.5 hour walk to the botanical gardens at Cap Roig. A small, exclusive music festival is held there every year with top music stars such as Bob Dylan performing in the idyllic setting. Sting was the opening act this year so we thought we ought to see why the venue is so special. Our legs were still aching from the mammoth climb on Sunday but that didn’t deter us! The walk along the cliffs was spectacular and very, very hilly! At one point we were feeling rather lost when some English walkers pointed out the directional markings on the stones. In case you haven’t guessed this means Turn Right
I’m not sure where we would have ended up without that piece of advice!
The gardens were created by a Russian Colonel and his English, aristocrat wife who were searching the Costa Brava for a place to live and build their dream, they bought the site in 1927 and after many years of effort and work they created a space where nature and calm reign. They certainly succeded the views across the bay, back towards Llafranc were breathtaking as were the gardens.
They were well worth the walk and we spent a couple of peaceful hours admiring our surroundings. Far more enjoyable (and pleasant) than the Museo Dali
For our walk back, we abandoned the scenic but torturous cliff path and followed the roads, but it was an awful lot quicker (even stopping for lunch at one of the bay’s on the way back!)
That is a slight exaggeration, but we’ve spent the day out and about getting to know the Region (and the little Fiat!),
First stop was Figueres, home to the Salvador Dali museum. We surfaced from an underground car park to find ourselves in the middle of a bric-a-brac market which seemed to be mainly selling vinyl records, collectable bottle tops, fossils, old wooden skis and die cast models.
John was in heaven, pottering around and seeing what was for sale. Kim finally caught up with him chatting to a stall-holder who grew up in the Yorkshire Dales and moved to Spain over 40 years ago. He had seen some of best bands and solo artists of the 60’s and 70’s and was now selling his old concert programmes.
Next stop, Dali. No matter how hard we try, we really don’t do culture as well as we should. We were spooked by both the Teatre-Musee and the Dali Jolies. We did agree that the building was fantastic to look at and walking round it was like being in a Dali painting. We were never sure what we going to see next or where we would end up!
We had a leisurely drive back via Pals, a medieval town perched on a hill surrounded by plains. The gothic quarter has been restored and is a maze of pretty cobbled streets, arches across roads and beautiful houses with stone balconies. The photo really doesn’t do it justice.
Despite dire warnings of food poisoning, Kim wanted Paella for dinner tonight. We chose a small restaurant, set back from the seafront that was less geared to the tourist market – by that, it seemed very Spanish!
Kim was expecting golden rice with lots of seafood. What turned up was a grey, sticky gloop (luckily, we were too polite to take a photo!). The chef even showed it to her before plating up which was slightly worrying.
For a woman who can’t bear sticky fingers, she did surprisingly well dismembering the prawns and mussels.
She took slight comfort from locals ordering, and eating, black rice which was even greyer and gloopier. It needed to be tried but probably never again!
John, being the adventurer that he is, had pizza!!
Last night we avoided the main tourist areas and found a Tapas bar, Kim tried the squid, John was not so brave. We arrived just as it opened and were the only people in there initially but by the time we came to leave it was completely full with Spanish people, a good choice.
Day two of the extreme swimming competition and the town is heaving but the sun is shining so Kim spent the morning reading on the beach while John explored the town. Late morning we took on the challenge of the walk to the lighthouse, San Sabastia, which allegedly is only 30 minutes but up a vertical cliff!! The views were spectacular but it was one of those walks where the road winds up a hill that goes on forever
We’re starting to get the hang of Spanish eating habits so our treat was a late lunch when we’d done the walk back into town. It’s funny how coming down is so much easier!
Today was the day for re-acquainting ourselves with the Fiat for a drive along the coast. It really is a very different type of car to drive, particularly when trying to go up steep, narrow winding roads. Our trip to Aiguablava and Begur was stressful. It was harder to drive up the hill to Begur than the walk had been earlier. We were tempted to drive down to Tossa De Mar but decided that was for another day and in the daylight.
A late start for us today. We didn’t wake until 9:30 and rushed down to breakfast to find the beach had disappeared overnight! How dare they put up a tent city and spoil our views!
It turns out it’s a weekend of swimming competitions. Today was the three stage relay and we’re very excited to see what tomorrow brings. If anyone can translate the poster, we’d be grateful.
The weather’s lovely so we’ve spent the day soaking up the sun, exploring the town, discussing the merits of different boats in the Marina and watching the swimming competition. Having walked along the costal path to the next town for dinner we discovered we’re completely out of synch with Spanish eating patterns. Our late breakfast meant we missed lunch and were ready for dinner at 5 when everywhere (and we mean everywhere!) is shut! It appears you can eat from 7:30 until 5 and then not again until 8:30 in the evening! Heroes that we are, we managed with an ice cream until we can eat ‘proper food’.
Being used to the Atlantic Ocean on the Cornwall coast, we are struck by how different the Med is. There is no apparent low and high tide and hence a distinct lack of waves or any noise. Although this evening there is plenty of noise as the swimming completion parties into the night.
Although our hotel is ideally located and very nice it does have one flaw, there are no tea making facillaties which Kim is finding very difficult. John is seriously considering investing in a kettle and some tea bags before someone gets hurt!
Here we are in sunny Catalonia and it’s really rather lovely.
The journey to Stanstead, the Ryanair flight and customs at Girona Airport were effortless. Then we hit the queue to pick up the hire car! It took us longer to sort that than the flight, you couldn’t make it up. Not only did we queue for 2 hours, we were relieved of an additional payment which was more than the flights cost too.
Moan almost over – we collected our Fiat 500 which Is fighting back. It may be cute but it won’t go up hills and we can’t find the switch for the sun roof. Watch this space for an in depth review of small Fiat cars!
Now onto the good stuff. Our hotel is right on the promenade with picture book views of the bay. So we chilled in the late afternoon sunshine followed by a walk round to the next bay. Beer and tapas on a terrace overlooking the Med to a back drop of Johnny Cash music was rather bizarre. We could easily adapt to the lifestyle and may not come home