Ending on a warm note; coastal Catalunya

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May 8th 2019
Published: May 10th 2019
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Waking up to rural smells and sounds, and a gorgeous day, we were definitely in a village.

Fuentespalda has a history we got the lowdown on upon chancing on an older resident, possibly the village crier, that afternoon. Virtually throwing herself verbally on us, the long history of the Ermita atop the hill, the legend written of the trumpet protecting the village, and the decision to never speak a certain dialect, was explained. The alternate name is Fontdespatla, and local signage is duo-lingo.

La Picosa, a peak at over 1000m, took us a good few hours to climb beforehand. It was exactly the muscle-work change our thighs needed, rewarding us with a birds eye view of the nearby turquoise embalse, and dramatic craggy mountains to the east. A cool 6C morning and warm 18C afternoon fit well with the typical climate for spring, our Flemish hosts described.

Leaving our cosy home at Apartamentos Mas de Pau was hard, with the prospect of big city driving ahead. Tolls and multi exit highways would be a certainty. Via upper Aragón, we drove through a long valley, with the surrounding mountain range we’d seen the day before.

Decathlon and Mercadona
were well lined up by P2, covering the bases for a quick stop at Tortosa. Bike clothing and grocery seen to, off we drove into the increasing busyness of highways around Tarragona, and the coast south of Barcelona. Several tolls later, we peeled off after Sitges, stopping briefly for lunch on a narrow coastal road, in view of the ocean. Water! It’s been so long.

Traffic was not so stress-free after then, and maps.me partly useful in getting us out of tight situations. We concluded that renting a car has more cons than pros, made clear when turning up to Avis Downtown early, to see no instructions on how to deal with our planned after hours drop off. Fortunately one business was still open at the early Spanish hour of 6.30pm, whom knew exactly what to do. Park it here, drop it there, and adios. Overall loose.

As a complete experience about-face, we saw a nearby taxista tending very carefully to his vehicle, polishing and tidying. Disponible? He sure was! Get in! Let me help you! So it turned out he had lived in Japan, and spoke Japanese. What a coincidence. He was a lovely Catalán man at
a taxi stand, from Cáceres (that beautiful town from Semana Santa days).

El Masnou. Our old hood. Esther had housed us a few years ago in one of the several apartments they manage, and similarly, we arrived to the same one, named Mediterráneo. The beach over the road begged exploration, but with blue bottles visiting, and the water being supposedly around 15C, it wasn’t quite the October welcome we’d previously had. Spring has its differences!

Into the evening, we tripped out. The power we had in bursts, the internet and everything associated went down, and as we scratched our heads as to how we could communicate with someone without any ability to, I went out into the street to discover the local electricista, starting a night shift. Who else has a painted light bulb above their front door.

Meeting Esther the next day, the electricistas wife, we described where we’d been in Spain and in Fuentespalda the night before. Outside our unit there was a concrete slab with the name Alex inscribed. Robin, our Flemish host, described it’d been there since they took over the property. No association to them.

“So, Esther, what’s your husbands name?”
“Alex”. It’s was a sign!

Sleep came so easily after the late night electricity games.

A late morning start on the 7th therefore left us the entire afternoon to see the Palau de la Música Catalán, P2s suggestion, alongside another antique store to relieve him of many euros.

The Palau UNESCO site is a sight to behold inside, for any lovers of architecture or concert halls. Designed over a 100 years ago by an architect more famous than Gaudí at the time (back then, he was a student), it has elements of modernism throughout in the colours, and detail. For the sculptured musicians and singers, the emphasis was on all-inclusiveness.

After exiting, we encountered winter. It was time to hanker down for the evening.

Esther kindly helped me find a decent pool. El Masnou has a secret, and it’s the Complex Esportiu on Carrer Sant Sebastia, just under a kilometre from our apartment. The pros of staying 25 minutes out of town just got better, even if the public pool behaviour in lane swimming is exactly the same, but in a different language.

Winter took a break around lunchtime, and with cameras at the
ready, we took the train into our usual Arc de Triumph metro stop. Port Vell, twenty minutes walk away, is boaty heaven. The launches and super yachts outnumber the humble sail boats, small fishing craft, or children’s school trip, taken noisily aboard an open-top boat.

The fish were biting too, judging from plenty of mouths on the surface around the pier.

On to the design museum, we saw some old examples of furnishings, ceramics, and the literal clincher, corsets and all apparatus of female bodily restraint. How it took several centuries to realise thoracic compression probably wasn’t the best thing for internal organs or skeletal growth, the mind boggles. But, women, and less frequently men, wore it until mid to late 1800s when they were liberated with looser clothing.

Our fatigue levels needed liberating after a second lengthy yet informative day. Panadería, and a late afternoon tea solved all, and we settled in for a night, overlooking the seaside rail line and unusually misty Mediterranean.

Summer got into full swing the following day, early 20C the forecast high, and prospects of at least one sea swim better. The word at the esportiu piscina was that blue
bottles had repeatedly made their appearance in coastal areas for several years past, now prompting a possible installation of nets offshore by the council.

And it’s not that warm at 15C.

We had one last hoorah into town at a lazy hour. By now we’d built up a habit of standing on all train trips, the carriages being much more congested than on our October visit in 2017. Arc de Triumf, and the corresponding only public toilets in Barcelona we knew of, were now a landmark to rely on.

Via the gothic quarter, Plaça Cataluña, and Passeig Gracia, we got our fix of old buildings and plazas. A short stop at decathlon led to us spotting that place where Picasso hung out, Cuatro Gats, as it did several others, obviously on their private tours.

Returning earlier than usual surely was a recipe for an earlier night. I urged P2 to embrace the summer day and come with me to el mar. Using the temperature scale of Ocean beach (Hawkes bay) in November as cold, and Takapuna in October as tepid, I rated it as between. The persuasion worked, and soon we had said that old chestnut
of ‘once you’re in, it’s ok!’

The atmosphere was electric that night. Actually, once dinner was over, and we’d fought with certain South American visitors to use a washing machine before our flight out, an acrid smell emanated from under the kitchen sink. P2 suggested that we put the air con on, crossing fingers that it wouldn’t break the fuse as the past three nights had, when simply sat with the lights on.

After me getting a shock from the stainless steel countertop, we figured something more severe was going on. It was 11pm and we roused Esther’s marido, the ever hassled Alex the sparky.

A burned out plug, with fumes wafting was taken immediately out, followed by its neighbour, and the cause determined as external cables, combined perhaps after recent internal apartment changes to address the repeat fuse breaking. It took all powered services out, with the best solution as simply now going to bed.

‘Donde hay fumar hay fuego’, where there’s smoke there’s fire. In any language, it was definitely a crisis averted.

We’ve reached almost ninety days in this country, that has whizzed by. At first the vision of being here was
many months off, and linked to the move we’d made in NZ. Now it’s passed, we’re onto the final phase, academia. As I’m frequently reminded by P2, I need to ‘hit the books’ pre Congress. Whilst he does his own thing.

We’ve seen the breadth of Spain, literally. Demographically it’s been enlightening, to know better what issues a country faces, and reconciling that versus ours. I think that’s an academic exercise in itself.

Geneva and colder weather awaits.

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