Published: October 22nd 2011July 15th 2011
Heathrow was better to be leaving than arriving. We picked up some duty free grog – Klaire had been converted to Pimms while in London, and I was running low on Havana Club.
The flight was one of the shortest we'd had, then we landed in Barcelona. We had to wait a couple of hours for the next group of older travellers. My parents had their turn at travelling with us, now it was time for Klaire's to have a go.
The airport was interesting as these sort of hub airports often are. People from all over the place were moving around, many many different languages being spoken. I was glad that I could still understand Spanish after a 3 week hiatus, although the accent was a bit strange. We also watched with disappointment as groups of police made the rounds, stopping every dark skinned person in the place and demanding ID. Most of the people just seemed to accept it, particularly the older ones. The younger peeps were a lot more pissed off, and I think had every right to be – we did not see any light skinned person being similarly questioned, and it was obvious to
every one there how it worked.
Klaire's parents, Michael and Sue, arrived eventually, and looked more than a little relaxed after 2 weeks in Italy. Would they be so relaxed after me driving them around Europe on the wrong side of the road for a month, I wondered?
We had booked a car through a fantastic French government funded deal. Only available to non-EU residents it is a lease arrangement for one of the French carmakers' vehicles – Citroen/Peugot and Renault. For a longer term lease, at least a month, it works out far cheaper than a rental. For our car it worked out to less than 25 dollars a day. We had chosen a Citroen Berlingo – basically a delivery van with seats, and this is what we expected.
What we got was an excellent car. With an intercooled turbo-diesel 1.6 it had a range of at least 900km on a tank of fuel, and the motor had plenty of go. The car was very well appointed, with all the bells and whistles; automatic wipers, climate control, mp3 stereo, cruise control and more compartments than you knew what to do with. The back seats even had
a tray table that folded down from the front.
Only one problem – the steering wheel was on the wrong side.
After being told that this was how they do here, we headed off, somewhat nervously, into Barcelona traffic.
We were headed for Calella; a small tourist town on the coast, about an hours drive from Barcelona. Here we had booked an apartment for a week to give us base to see the area.
The apartment was good. Only one bedroom, but with a foldout couch, it was in a reasonable spot and big enough. It had cable tv, and I discovered an excellent channel – Barça TV. A channel all about Futbol Club Barcelona, and its many affiliates. While I amused myself watching the Barça futsal team give someone else a pantsing everyone else relaxed after our first drive on European roads.
Being a resort town in summer Calella was packed with tourists – mostly Spanish but plenty of English, Americans and many, many others. Most of whom sported an unhealthy tan five minutes away from sunstroke. For it was far from cool. With temps in the high 30s it was feeling very familiar,
though not as humid as Brisbane, let alone Darwin. A large glass of Estrella in a street side cafe was generally the best way to deal with the heat. Lining up on the crowded beach seemed simply moronic.
The beer, once again, was cheap, though not to the same standard as English beer. There were some standouts, but the local standard was simply a beer – not too bad, not that great.
What was special was the meat. The wonderful, excellent meat – a bewildering array of every kind of cured, marinated, salted, smoked, fermented meat product you could name. And most of them you couldn't. You simply saw, drooled, then pointed.
The new team of older travellers enabled Klaire to insist on her shopping rights. Klaire had shown a remarkable level of restraint so far on out trip, but this was brought undone by the arrival of her teacher, so the first order of business was a trip into town to see if there were any shops.
Quite a few, really, this being Barcelona. The existence of shops established, we visited them all.
It was a rainy day, which helped with
the heat and we managed to fit some culture into our shopping. We went to the Picasso museum, or at least the queue. We unanimously decided that we didn't need to see Picasso that bad.
The little walking tour cards that Michael had turned out to be pretty good. Each one had a different walking tour of some part of the city, and we followed a few different ones. Walked around the :Las Ramblas area, along with a billion other tourists. And the Barrio Gotic. We ended up down a lot of different alleys and what not, including a tranquil little plaza that had been left as it was following the civil war, bulletholes included. Some of the time I kept a weather eye out for pickpockets, having heard all the stories, but couldn't find any and didn't get mugged. Almost a little disappointing.
It was certainly a beautiful city, and I could see the Latin American influence in many of the buildings. Or should that be.....?
Day trips were easier, now that we had a car. There was a giant mountain you could see in the distance – so we went and had a look at
it. A dash up to Montserrat with a stop at the shops on the way. The mountain was nice if not the best we'd seen.
In a serendipitous moment, one of Klaire's good friends, Camille, was in Barcelona with her partner Mary, so we caught up for a few drinks.
First we had a look at some Gaudi. As Barcelona's favourite son (leaving aside Messi who's really Argentinian anyway), it ill behoves anyone to speak ill of his work. However, in the interests of honesty and controversy – not a fan.
At the risk of sounding more uncultured and unrefined than I already am I found his work somewhat underwhelming. While gazing at his buildings, waiting for the 'ahh' moment, I was reminded of those Magic Eye paintings that were around when I was a young teenager. I could stare at those stupid things for hours and only see bad wallpaper, while everyone else saw dolphins and mountains and whatnot. Looking at the facades was like that.
Also, I kept thinking that it looked a lot like he'd built the model for them out of wax and left it in the sun or something.
did what the locals seemed to be doing in the Placa del Sol. Grabbed some beers from the nearest shop and got drinking. The locals sat around us, talking, laughing, looking pretty. Some random bar hopping ensued, followed by sushi, which was actually pretty decent. The night ended with Klaire and me sprinting along Las Ramblas to Plaça Catalunya station to get the last train home.
As last trains always are it was an interesting ride. From the guy alternatively playing with, and staring amazed at, his PSP, to the pretty girl with excellent tattoo on her thigh – very new and painful looking. It was an eclectic crowd of folk.
Being only a short drive from France we decided it would be remiss of us not to make the trip up to the Pyrenees to watch a stage of the Tour de France. It could be Cadel's year, and be great to see him go past. An 800k round trip to see stage 14 seemed worth it.
We piled into the Berlingo and headed up north. We had a pretty good idea of where to go, but it wasn't that easy to figure out.
we found ourselves at Les Cabannes for the beginning of one of the hardest hillclimbs of the tour. In fact, the stage we had chosen was the hardest stage of the race. We found ourselves a good spot, and settled in to wait.
Having only ever watched the race on telly I had no idea about the caravanne. This preceded the riders, and was a massive procession of entertainment and advertising. Waving like bonito on okonomiyaki we tried to get the floats to throw stuff to us. And there was competition for the swag – the French spectators being the most aggressive. The riders, when they eventually arrived, were already buggered, but they went past quickly
We managed to score quite a lot of stuff. It was almost worth the 40 euros in tolls we'd had to pay to make it up in time.
There are more photos below