Reisezeit!

It’s time to hit the road! After all, I’ve been home for almost a week. Just enough time for switching from my Texas traveling gear to the necessities for springtime in Catalunya and Andalucía, Spain. The drive from Saintes, Charente-Maritime, France, to Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain, takes almost seven hours straight driving time, and since we have been interested in the former Roussillon region in France for a while, we decided to break up the trip and stay overnight in a B&B in Perpignan, Pyrénées-Orientales. The plan was to arrive mid-afternoon to have some time to explore the city. However, we left home very much later than intended effectively squashing that idea. Something lost, something gained – our B&B, “Le Mas des Vives” turned out to be such a comfortable place and the owners Manoëlle and Lionel with their son Alexandre & cat Leo were such convivial hosts that we decided to come back to Perpignan another time. A decision based in no small part on the fact that Manoëlle is also an inspired chef and prepared a magnificent dinner for us. We’re already looking forward to our next stay!

Saturday morning we left France behind us, crossing the snowy Pyrenees mountains into Spain, driving toward our home exchange destination in Barcelona.

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Along the way, we detoured for a stop in Palamós, a small fishing village on the Costa Brava, the ‘Wild Coast’ of Catalonia to the East of Barcelona.

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The last time I had driven toward Palamós there was no freeway system and you needed to exchange your money to Pesetas at a bank – since there were no ATMs either. Travelling across Europe is definitely easier these days! I was looking forward to revisiting the town where my extended family and friends spent our summers in the early sixties. We also needed to stop at the Vodafone shop to buy a prepaid SIM card for my phone. That done, we could focus on reminiscing. First stop the seaside, naturally. [click on pics to enlarge]

We left our car near the Vodafone shop located in what appeared to be the main business street and walked from there through Carrer de Mallorca to the beach, enjoying the sunshine along the way. My, how posh the town had become! A tiled esplanade along the wide beach culminates in Plaça Murada, a landscaped park with a fountain and decorative maritime tchotchkes.

Where that rock rests now was the dirt plaza where the town’s people danced the Sardana, the traditional Catalan folk dance, on Saturday nights. Our rental place was just two streets over and we, a whole gaggle of kids, snuck out the window behind our parent’s backs to join the locals. The street is still there, but our house and its modest neighbors have long since been replaced by high rise vacation rentals and parking garages. Children’s entertainment options on the beach are still available if updated to Disney characters. We only had plain bumper cars and a carousel.

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Access to the town’s Yacht Club had received a serious facelift in the intervening years,

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matching the classy design of the new Fishery Museum next door.

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This outstanding museum covers the last 800 years of the fishing industry in Palamós and along the Costa Brava, it’s current state of affairs and its future, in five languages. And it’s not only the fish that factor into the maritime lifestyle of the village. I learned that Palamós bay is deep enough to accommodate cruise ships along its full-service commercial pier. Cruise ships in Palamós. Who’d a thunk it! The old fish market hall is still there, where the catch of the day is auctioned off every afternoon when the fishing fleet returns home. Except on weekends, when the colorful gate remains closed.

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Seeing the picture we became pretty hungry and searched for Los Caracoles, the seafood restaurant on the pier that we frequented when in town all those years ago. My nice Vodafone guy had asured me that it’s still around. It was, but it wasn’t “our” Los Caracoles, which had been in a different location altogether and was way less upscale than the one we did find.

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This Schneckenhaus was a dinner only restaurant anyway, so we happily moved on to a delightful tapas place called ‘The Wave’.

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We didn’t sit in their main location, seen here, but their glass-enclosed beach terrace across the street overlooking the bay. We enjoyed every bite of their offerings while gazing over the Mediterranean Sea.

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Local sardines, grilled veggies and my favorites, patatas bravas, those wonderful, ‘fierce’ potatoes with their aioli dip.

After lunch, we walked back to the car and continued our drive to Barcelona, well equipped with a GPS guidance system in my phone and plenty of gas.

However, finding our exchange home in Barcelona turned out to be rather difficult. Not so much finding it, but driving the car close enough to it to unload our luggage. I do have to admit that in the process of navigating through medievally narrow lanes in the Old Town, I may have mangled a tethered bike’s tire while trying to inch forward through spaces so narrow that we had to flip our side mirrors inward to fit through tunnels determined by ancient stone walls – and only because a kind shopkeeper pulled her potted plants inside. It was all rather adrenergic, but we got it done. Finally arriving at our destination, Barry had to handle all of our luggage – first dragging it down a lane to our building, then using the lift [halleluja!] to take it up to the apartment. Once everything was unloaded, I had to get the car out of there asap, since the window to drive a personal vehicle through the pedestrian zone had closed some time ago.

Parking in Barcelona Centro is difficult to impossible and very costly. But in my research, I came across a municipal parking venture including a parking garage in easy walking distance to our place. During the last 3 days at home in Saintes, I tried in vain to sign up and pay online for a 15-day Bonus Parking Card for a mere €82 in that garage. I exchanged multiple emails with one of the administrators, but their system just wouldn’t accept either of the five (5!) different payment cards we offered in due course. Finally, I learned that it might be possible to also purchase a Bonus Card from an attendant right at the parking garage.

Don’t you just love parking garages? They’re truly a woman’s worst nightmare. Dark and echoing. So I backed into the first available parking spot upon entering, still on the ground level with views to the outside. From there it was only a few steps toward the manager’s booth near the exit. That’s the very empty manager’s booth. Darn. What now? I also had to pee rather urgently since the last pitstop in Palamós had been hours ago. What to do? Well, woman, look around you and notice certain features. For example, a free-standing square post with buttons and notices, as in “if you need help” and so on, all of it in your choice of languages of either Catalan or Spanish. Punching a random button connected me with a lovely female Spanish voice inquiring as to my problem. We engaged in a brief conversation in which she told me A. the location of the bathrooms B. to hang on for 20 minutes, in which time someone would arrive to sell me my Bonus Card.

Really, on Saturday night?

Yes! In less than 10 minutes a friendly young man on a scooter arrived, not at all put out that I had interrupted his family time. He unlocked the manager’s booth, asked me in and offered me a seat while he handled the paperwork for my desired parking pass. What grand customer service!  Yeah for BSM Estació Barcelona-Nord! The walk home was a 15-minute cakewalk thanks to my new Vodafone chip – and pretty too, past a number of landmarks. Barcelona here we come!

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