Sunday, June 24, 2012

Spanish but really Catalan

I tell Ed we must scrub the apartment clean before we leave. A gift to our landlords – so that the burden is less on them.

By 10, we hand over the keys and wave goodbye. Next year – there has to be a next year! What will change in our lives between now and then? Stay healthy and happy! As if we could fix it so that it could always be so...

We drive out of Sorede, pausing for an “on the road” breakfast at Le Feurnil. We’d been ogling the almond chocolate croissants, but nothing in life is predictable: they don't have them this morning! The sweet reward is that we, therefore, discover these little buns with raisins and chocolate and if there is a heavenly breakfast (as opposed to a healthy breakfast – they don’t always coincide) it is this (chewy!) bread roll with a café crème.


One La Patrie baguette for the road,


...a final look a the line of weekend bread starved customers,


...and we get on the big highway that puts us south of the Pyrenees, into the heart of Spanish Catalonia. Funny how that works. Good bye French Catalonia, hello Spanish one.

As in previous years, we take a few days here – in between days, days for poking around the Catalan speaking villages. We’ve given time to towns by the sea, and some time to the mountain villages this side of the border, where to now?

Deep into the countryside...


... far from mountains, not too close to the sea either – in the tiny hamlet of Camos, there is an old, old church and right across from it – a rectory, converted now to a rural something or other (called La Sala de Camos) – not really bed and breakfast because they also cook dinners. So we’re here for two nights. It’s a favorite for Barcelona people who want to escape the crowds for a weekend, or a couple of nights.

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It takes us a while to find the place. As we finally drive up the dirt road, we’re greeted by an angry turkey who attacks cars.


I can’t move! He keeps running in front, straight at the car! Can you chase him away?
It takes a long while for the turkey to haughtily stalk off and rejoin his turkey friends on the farm across the road.

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The inn keeper tells us – loco pavo! He has an obsession with cars!  

We are just a few kilometers from the biggest lake in the region – Lake Banyoles. I'm hoping it offers some swimming opportunities. Not that we can find our way there either.  A few wrong turns and we end up on narrow roads trailing into the hills.

You are such an optimist! Not a chance that it is up this road. Turn around!
I try. Off pavement, back on, the car lets out a groan as I scrape its belly. Ed laughs. This is my second folly of the day, having already managed to drive over the curb when pulling into the parking lot at Le Feurnil. That, too, caused the undersides to groan.  Ed tells me we’re even now – I’ve caught up to his driving into a ditch in Sardinia and, too, the pulling off of a side mirror in a crazy turn in Sicily.

I let him chuckle. Lately, I’m doing 99% of the driving because I don’t like his pace, especially on the narrow winding roads. Of course I’m going to bump elevated asphalt ridges if I’m at the wheel!

Ha ha ha! – that’s from Ed. He can have a hearty laugh.
Did I do damage? 
He inspects the car. Nothing that can’t be snapped back on!
All I can say is the clunker has a very low bottom.

And now it’s my turn to laugh. Tired of having me ask “what does this mean” when we're in Spain, Ed (who does not himself own a cell phone) has commandeered my iPhone and loaded it with a Spanish dictionary app.  We really splurged: it cost us $5.

The dictionary component is far better than the free ones we tried first, but the voice recognition part – where you speak your words and you get the translation – well, it’s random! Say one word or one phrase and you get a translation that’s not even close. I tell him the problem is his booming voice. I take a turn. No, not any better.

We spend a good number of minutes feeding it words to see what comes out. Each translation seems funnier than the previous one. 

It strikes me now (but not for the first time), that Ed is an easy traveling companion. Neither one of us is prone toward moodiness, but I have also come to appreciate it when each predicament or false step usually results in nothing more than a good chuckle. And in between, we revel in a gentle quiet.

As we drive now finally toward the lake, I ask Ed to translate a road sign. He tells me – Nothing is written in Spanish here. We put away the iPhone. Catalan is the preferred language. Spanish a very distant second. English? No, not at all.

Lake Banyoles has about a 6 mile shore line. It takes us two hours to walk around it. When the Olympics came to Barcelona (2004), the rowing championships were held here. It’s a pretty lake – with clear, clean waters. (Note the designated rowing lanes in the second photo.)




Surprisingly, even though it's a lovely Saturday afternoon, not many are by it, on it, in it. People must prefer the sandy beaches of the sea.


There are a few private huts by the water’s edge and there is a designated public swimming area. We pause there for a swim and to eat our bread and left over (very runny in the heat!) cheeses.



The small crowd at this almost pool-like shore front (there are steps leading into the water, which is even at the shore, some five feet deep) is truly an mixture. A group of young adults, shrieking as one pushes the other, clothes on, into the water.


A group of boys, dangling a hand or a leg in the water.


And then come the hippies (or is the term hippie reserved for America?) with the locks of long hair and a toddler in tow. They all strip to complete nakedness and plunge into the water. A few of the boys giggle as the young man emerges and, like a dog, shakes off water. No one else seems to notice.

After a swim, we continue our hike along the lake front. Ed comments that the trail is a little reminiscent of the lake shore path in Madison, only this lake hasn’t the smell of algae.


And if you look to the shore, there is nothing Madison-like in our surroundings.



Our dinner is late. French Catalans call it a day by ten. Spanish Catalans merely begin their evening then. 

We have a very delicious zucchini wild mushroom and tiny shrimp dish...


...and since we both asked for fish (Ed wont eat lamb or veal which were offered as the other possibilities), the kitchen came up with two different ones -- bass for him, salmon for me (we split and shared each). With fruit and ice cream for dessert.

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It’s Sant Joan Eve. In Sorede they’re dancing. Here, you can listen to the firecrackers in the distance. The innkeeper (whose name also happens to be Joan – which is Catalan for John) opens a bottle of Cava and brings out slices of the traditional yeasty cake. We munch this outside, in the quiet of the courtyard. One of the guests speaks a modest amount of English. What brings you here? – she asks. Americans don’t typically pick isolated rural spots for their travels and people are always surprised to run into us there. Understandably so: there’s so much to see in the towns and cities!

It’s hard to explain why we’re drawn to the quiet of the countryside, why we would find a walk up a mountain or around the lake so satisfying that we’ll nearly always pick it over a trip into a bigger, richer, more imposing urban center. (I say “nearly,” because we have some exceptions to that rule, coming up!)

Is it midnight by the time we retire to the room that faces the church entrance. It’s utterly quiet outside. The church bell rings only once a week -- Sunday morning, in time for mass. Even before that, the turkeys will come to our window and make an early morning racket. But that's the next day. Right now, at midnight, it's quiet.