Monday, October 02, 2017

of kings and oysters and the calm waters of the Mediterranean

I wake to rain. It's okay: it was expected and it wont last. Still, not hiking or beach weather. This is the day we should make the trip to the town of Perpignan.

But first breakfast. We eat it at the preferred bakery, where tables are set out for the people who just can't wait to dive into their bread product, helped along with a cup of coffee or an orange juice. And so much did I want to dive into my croissant that I did not even think about taking that morning photo!

The first picture comes from the wee train station at the seaside town of Argeles-sur-Mer, where we catch the train to Perpignan (it's a hefty fifteen minute ride!).


Perpignan feels like it's about four times the size of Madison, even though population wise, it's far smaller. It is the capital of the Pyrenees Orientales Department -- the administrative unit that contains all the towns and villages and beaches and mountains that I visit here.

Once the center of the Kingdom of Majorca, it surely has the influence of centuries of Spanish rule (ceded by Spain only in the 17th century).

But if the city had a noble past, it, too, had a more troubled modern face. Some people may say it suffered a period of being down and out. But this is not its current fate. It's on an upswing and it shows.

(As in most big towns, the road leading away from the train station is only mildly interesting. I think it's curious that palm trees line this street, at the same time that it seems somehow fitting for Perpignan: don't forget, we were once part of Spain! - it seems to be saying.)


When you cross the river, you are in the old town.


And the restoration work here is magnificent. (And the little girl, enjoying the shiny granite sidewalk reminds me of Snowdrop...)


The main square:


Mama cat plus little cat.


The narrow streets of old town.


We want to do something touristy. With good reason: the shops are mostly closed now. Such a south of France custom! Why end the weekend on Sunday when you can have Monday, or at least half of Monday off?! And the one museum we identified as possibly capturing the imaginations of all four of us was open on Mondays in the high season .... and then this Monday, it changed its schedule and closed its doors.

So where to? Well, at the edge of town, there is the magnificent Palace of the Kings of Majorca.

(In the courtyard, sculpture by Maillol, the guy from the seaside town of Banyuls who sculpted under the encouragement of Gaugin...)


(The palace chapel...)


(Perhaps equally breathtaking is the view from one of the palace towers. Here is that cascading tail end of the Pyrenees. After the last hill, it's the sea.)


Time for lunch. I'd asked where in town could we get some of the local oysters. Many of the inlets here (etangs) support oyster beds and I don't want to leave without a taste of both local oysters and local anchovies. I'm immediately directed here, to the (of all places) Cafe Vienne.


Lunch: both oysters and a salad with the anchovies and Spanish mountain ham. Catalan staples.


And now it is late afternoon -- time to catch the train back to Argeles-sur-Mer.


On the quick drive from the station back to Sorede I pause the car several times and my indulgent friends put up with my great desire to study these olive groves...


... And to gaze at one of my favorite vistas just outside Sorede. Vineyards and mountains. All that's missing in the frame is the sea.


Are the grape leaves turning? Just ever so slightly in this first week of October.


And now it is more like early evening than late afternoon. But I have this hankering: the skies are clearing here and there. The air isn't exactly toasty, but still comfortably warm-ish.

Would anyone like to go with me for a swim at Le Racou beach?

Some people may think that's one nutty idea. A long day. A cool day. Shouldn't we wait until the sun returns? Don't we just want to put up the old feet and exhale?

In the end, Barbara and Shmuel come along for the ride to Racou.

This beach, of all the numerous beaches Ed and I discovered, was our most frequent go to place for a late day swim. The water turns deep quickly and so you can swim close to shore and then slump down on a sloped beach of grainy sand.

I always loved this wee cove where the beach cottages are tiny and colorful and sail boats and sea kayaks rest on the sand. Tonight it is both quiet and magnificent!


But is the water warm???

Well, not exactly. It had been a cool day and it surely is getting cooler now by the minute and yet I cannot help myself. In I go. (My friends take the photo.)


(Barbara searches for sea shaped treasures...)


(A solitary boat sets sail and a row boat moves quietly across the sea...)


I don't swim for long. But I am bursting with the joy of having tasted the Mediterranean salt on my skin.

The three of us do set out then along a coastal path, just to look back at Racou beach and the setting sun...


And we end with a pizza at Racou's Coco Loco pizzeria which brings back so many memories!


It is very dark by the time we drive back home.

I am not just a catalogue of memories on this trip. We experience Sorede as friends now: it is ours, not just mine from some years back. Still, every once in a while, I roll back and then roll forward and it's all such an incredible ride, linking the best of the past with the sweetest moments of the present.