Monday, June 25, 2012

thinking back

Turkeys and older people? Sunday morning? Such a long time ago! Somehow we jumped from an abundance of idle meanderings, to a short period of stress and now we’re on a train speeding  from one coast of Spain to the other and all I want to do is sleep. The comfort of not having to cope with traffic or weather or any of the usual skirmishes and issues of travel fills me with an urge to give in. Close my eyes and float.

There is a café bar on the train and after an hour of drifting, I rouse myself enough to walk over, buy a strong coffee and reach into my pack for the laptop.

Why this drowsiness? Not due to the efforts exerted in the last day or two. Nor because sleep in the quiet of our La Sala de Camos room was inadequate. Let me go back to that moment of waking on Sunday morning and by the time I bring us to this moment on the train, maybe you’ll see that something about the peculiar combination of minutes warrants this moment of drowsiness.

So turkeys, strutting over from the farm next door, making a racket that sounds like a child’s quick cry, one after another.


And, just before 9:30, the old door of the church by our window (it’s very close!) opens and after a few minutes, the bell chimes. I expected a loud call, but it isn’t that. Just enough to let you know the church doors are now open for business.

All this is very pleasant. I push back the lace curtain and watch the small group of people congregate. I doubt they came by cars. I hear no engines and I see no parking lot.


Breakfast in the Rectory (now Inn) hall. The couple who run this place (are they owners? I do not know. We asked and failed to understand the long explanation) split tasks and responsibilities. Her world is based in the kitchen and she brings out the cheeses and the toasted breads and because people here love their sausage, she puts out a board of these:

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After breakfast, without much deliberation, we decide it’s time to go back to the sea. That’s not easy from this particular place. We are barely 40 kilometers away and yet Google tells me it’s a 45 minute drive. 

We go to the Lake Banyoles Tourist Office in the hope of getting better directions on how to exit the village and get to the sea. Between their instructions and the google instructions we get even more confused, in the end adding many minutes of road to our travels.

No matter. This quick trip to the Tourist Office gives us (if not great directions) a very lovely set of  minutes by the lake. The cool colors of the water make you forget that it actually is quite a warm day.



There is a small group of painters putting their own interpretations of this pretty scene to canvases and we look over their shoulder to see which we like best.


And then we get on those various twirling roads and now here we are by the sea.

At least I have no doubt which beach to go to. Of all the ones we’ve tried on the Costa Brava, I remember the very first one (of two years back) with greatest fondness. Yes, there is the usual parking problem (in Spain, any proximate place to leave your car requires a payment and so we don’t leave our car in proximate places), but the beach is spacious, so that even on a summer Sunday (and yes, it is summer!) you can find a corner for yourself.


And the water! I have to admit it – if I had kids, I’d bring them to this place (Sant Marti a Empuries). It stays waist deep for a long long time, without the tricky deeper drop offs of La Franqui. It satisfies the person who wants to swim, it satisfies the person who wants to play in the clear clean waters – it’s uniquely ... satisfying!


And so we swim, play a little, rest on the sands – all the good moments that we love north of here, delightfully replicated on this one beach that hasn’t (many of) the difficulties that I associate with the Costa Brava.

The drive back is finally along the proper roads and it’s becoming a pleasant drive because once you understand your surroundings, you can turn off your anxiety about finding the right left road or marking kilometers on the odometer.

And, too, the drive takes us past the always stunning fields of sunflowers. Up in the hills, they looked like this:


Our inn keeper explains that summer is late this year. But toward the coast, they look like this:


To me, Holland has her tulips, France – the vineyards, Spain – the sunflowers.

We’re back at the inn and Ed naps and I write and then I nudge him because it’s early evening – still a few hours towards dinner – and we promised ourselves one final hike – in the Catalan hills that border the lake. You might think that starting a hike after 6 is curious, but that’s how the day plays out and our hosts aren’t expecting us at the table until after 9.

We have a trail map and there is absolutely no reason to lose your way as it’s very well marked. It’s not a huge hike – can’t be more than two hours with an elevation of only 350 meters. And beautiful, absolutely beautiful in the burnt orange evening sunlight.


And yet, twice we lose the trail and I have to say that we are either extreme imbeciles at following markers or just very unlucky. No matter. A happy encounter with a woman and her dog sets us straight and soon we are at Pig Clara – from where the views are indeed stunning.


Ed says that this hike gives the most bang for the buck (meaning it surely gives satisfying views for being relatively undemanding) and he’s right. Not only are there mountain views to three sides...


... but, too, there is the lake below.


We are a tad rushed going down...

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... but all’s well on this day as we come in just a few minutes after 9 and our hosts assure us that we are the only guests tonight and dinner is simple and ready for us. A rice, shrimp and pineapple salad, grilled chicken and zucchini and potatoes fried in delicious olive oil. With the most succulent melon (and pears and kiwi) for dessert.

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And Monday morning is a leisurely affair as well. Our hosts fuss over us, fixing omelets and bringing baskets of toasted bread. No no, we do not eat the tomato here! She laughs as Ed is ready to bite into his. Rub it on the bread and drizzle it with olive oil!

We have our iPhone translator and we’re playing with it again since the voice recognition part has given us now a handful of correct translations, we’re trying to understand what leads it to work and what leads it to fail and it’s all so relaxed and very very pretty here at the rectory-turned-inn and we are in no great hurry because Barcelona is less than two hours away and the car is due back by 1:30. Our train out of Barcelona is at 3:30. All well timed, all perfectly relaxed.

By 11:25 we are on the road. I tell Ed that driving into Barcelona is a chore (even as driving out is quite easy), but Google is working for us and we take the correct turns and here we are zipping into the center of town in good stead.

Next right, he says, but only for 50 meters and then immediately left...

It’s hot and we’re not users of air conditioning in cars. Windows wide open, air passing through, nice, so nice. A motorcycle comes up to my side. Rapid Spanish. What? He points to the car. Oh fuck. I know what that means. Sure enough, another person points, they’re all pointing and they don’t even have to anymore because we feel it –the sound of a wheel with a punctured and perfectly flat tire.

We are 1.6 kilometers away from our destination, in dense Barcelona traffic, twenty minutes before the car’s due back, yes, all that, so close, so close!

Drive slowly, we’ll make it.
No. Cannot. It’s really flat.
Okay. I’ll change it. Ten minutes. I can do it. Pull over?
Where? Right here, on the street, because we are now the troubled drivers with a dysfunctional car so we can stop anywhere. We do and Ed switches into intense “I’m going to do this with great speed and precision” mode.

Crank the lug nuts, fast! – he shouts. And I don’t know a lug nut from a hickory nut, but it’s clear what has to be done and so here we are sprawled on the streets of Barcelona, flying through the switch and now it’s off, and the spare’s on!

I zip the remaining 1.6 kilometers to the Hertz garage and here, take your old clunker back, the car that, sensing our displeasure with it perhaps, let us down at the very end.

Four Hertz people stare at the wheel without air as if it was somehow unusual to get a flat. We wave and leave them to their contemplation.

I had emailed the wonderful Hotel Villa Emilia where we will be sleeping our final hours before our return flight takes off on July 4th and asked if they’d store my carry on (filled with a half dozen bottles of rose wine from France) until then and predictably, they were ever agreeable. So we walk to the hotel and after freeing ourselves of everything but two backpacks and a small shoulder bag, we exhale.

And I offer to buy Ed lunch at the lovely and slick Villa Emilia bar, in grateful appreciation for his masterful and speedy tire change, but he isn’t hungry and so I treat myself instead. A tapas plate of grilled artichokes, bread with tomato and olive oil and that wonderful soothing flute of Cava.

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And then, back we hike to the train station, a mere 25 minute stroll, even with packs and now we are on the train where I tried so hard to stay awake but what with the stress of the final minutes of car travel, I could not resist the freedom that is mine on the train, to do something or nothing, to listen to This American Life (we do that), or to catch up on Ocean writing.

It’s a five and a half hour train ride. By 9:08, we should be on the Atlantic coast, in San Sebastian.