Saturday, June 09, 2012

big and small

Breakfast isn’t included in our good rate at the Hotel Villa Emilia. I shrugged it off when I made the booking. We’re not well coordinated over the morning meal anyway. Ed will eat a monstrously big breakfast and I will eat my usual. Come lunch time, I will be hungry and Ed will ask – why didn’t you have more for breakfast? By dinner I’m starving and he’ll reluctantly accompany me to the table swearing that he could do well without eating.

But this morning we’re sluggish (middle of the night train ticket purchasing doesn’t make for a peppy wake up) and rather than hunt down a breakfast on the town, we add on the price of the wonderful morning meal at the hotel.

We like to ignore each other over this meal. Ed will read, I concentrate on putting together a plate of favorites.

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We have a few hours before the scheduled car pick up. Enough time for a walk...

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... to Barcelona’s market. One shouldn’t really rank markets – but if you forced me to do it, Barcelona’s huge one would trump most any other. For the color.




The abundance.

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The vendor personalities. (Some appear to love their work, others – not so much.)



Really, on any scale, you’d have to give it an excellent grade.

And that’s it for Barcelona. The city of balconies. And of color. And of art.

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Ed prompts me – the dogs, write about the dogs. Okay. We saw an abundance of pups today.

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They seemed to be a theme of our morning walk to the market.

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And then, too, during our walk to the car rental place (a scant half hour from the light!)


(Ed is pulling my small carry on.)

European car rentals – that is one complicated story. If you want a good rate, you cannot be loyal to any provider. We have used the Irish companies (Argus, etc) with great success, but some years, they are not competitive. For the past several times, we’ve fallen in love with Sixt. Unbelievably good rates and nice people. But this year, in some twist of remarkable competition, Hertz, of all things, won out with a rate of $172 for two and a half weeks. For a mini (Smart, Peugeot, Renault, whatever). We’ll take the smallest anytime.

And now we are standing at the counter dismayed. Because they don’t have the minis. Not even the next grade – the smalls. Upgrade, we’re giving you an upgrade! We don’t want an upgrade. We dislike big cars. But it’s all we have!

And so for the first time ever, we’re on the roads with what we consider to be a clunker. A four door compact. A major disappointment!

Okay, okay, I know. A small trifle over a big car. At least it’s a six speed diesel, Ed comments. Good gas mileage in countries were gas runs about twice the price of ours.

Ed sleeps, I drive. My traveling pal and I get along splendidly over most any conceivable traveling situation. Except when he gets behind the wheel. I wince. I shudder. I comment. He pulls over and says – you drive. The patterns repeats itself so often that these days, I simply drive and we bypass the drama of the middle of the road pull over.

We’re stopping halfway up to Sorede, along the Spanish Costa Brava. Ed is just raring to swim and since he gives me the two weeks in my beloved French Sorede, I try to fill all other days for him on the Spanish side of the border. He speaks Spanish, I speak French. We each prefer to be in the place where we can understand and be understood. And so we jump back and forth between the two.

None of the beaches along this lovely stretch of the Mediterranean really thrill me. The flat long bands of golden sand are flanked by uninterrupted hotels (on the French side, there are some nice stretches of deliberately undeveloped land and in any case, the hotels are all low and rather modest). Where the coast gets rocky here, in Spain, the drive is tediously winding and steep – not really walkable terrain.

And still, the coves, once you get to them, can be quite charming. And so, very quickly after dumping our bags at the simple but nice Mas Comangau (an ancient farmhouse at the edge of the old town of Begur)...

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... we head for one such cove just a handful of kilometers down from where we are.


For me, it’s far too cool to swim yet. At five in the evening, it’s 73 degrees outside and the wind makes it comfortably pleasant for a stroll. Not a swim. Ed, on the other hand, looks at the lightly choppy waters (unusual for a cove of this sort)...


...and he’s in.


And he stays in for quite a while. I sit on the steps leading down to the pebbles and people watch.


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After, we do walk. Just a little. For the views. To the north -- up the Costa Brava and the hills separating us from France...


... and to the north west -- and the rising peaks of the Pyrenee range.


And so our first full day here is a good one. A very good one. 

We eat dinner at the Mas – it’s included. A simple but delicious meal of a shrimp salad followed by a hunk of fish over potatoes and peppers, ending with a chocolate mousse. 

We’re outside on the terrace. I’m reluctant at first. It can’t be more than 65. But it’s so darn beautiful now, at 9:30 when we begin our meal. The sun sets to the side of us...


... the waiter/clerk/all around helpful person shows off his linguistic talents (he is from Senegal and he speak ten languages!), the hotel proprietor, a burly guy with a hearty back slapping kind of friendliness comes over for a chat too (no, no, we don’t mind that the WiFi isn’t really working in the room, we’re okay picking it up by the front desk).

For the traveler, the poor economic climate brings with it incredible price bargains and so life is good. For the hotels, restaurants, places that depend on a steady client base – these are really strained times. Ed and I spend the evening reflecting about economic cycles and predictions. We come from such different backgrounds, he and I – my training in economics is from the University of Warsaw, during the post war era. Ed bounces between unconstrained markets and the needed regulatory systems in the way that everyone does in the west – a lot of this, a little bit of that, never certain of what forms a good, sustainable balance.  

The evening grows cooler. I send Ed down to get a jacket for me, but then I forget to put it on. Something about the food, the Cava, the conversation keeps things spicy warm. It’s nearly midnight by the time we give in to sleep.

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