fades to winter today. Or it does in most years.
(our 26th wedding anniversary) started grey and glum. Hopefully no reflection on
our marriage! By 11.00am the sky had cleared and as we approached the Spanish
border, the Pyrenees loomed in their snow-covered magnificence. So much so that
all the Spanish truckies seemed to get the smell of home and took off like
riding school horses once their heads turned to the stables.
By the time
we caught up at the frontier, hundreds of trucks had massed at the motorway
entrance on the Spanish side heading for Barcelona. Inch by inch we all edged
our way on to the motorway, through the toll
gates and OFF at break-neck speed for home!!
abandoned the fray and headed for the Costa Brava town of l'Escala through
beautiful countryside, a strange mix of green fields and brown autumn colours in
the afternoon sun. The vineyards of Provence were pruned and ready for the
onslaught of winter. But on the Spanish side of the border a sudden return to
grazing land and vegetable farms totally changed the appearance of the
resorts of France and Italy, the Costa Brava is virtually deserted now. Just the
way we and the handful of like-thinking travellers and the locals like it! We
share the huge camping ground of Cala Montgo, which in summer would easily
accommodate thousands, with four or five other campers, including yet another
mob of Australians from Cannon Hill, with three kids, who are on the road for
there are hundreds of empty mobile homes and wooden bungalows; across the road,
the other half of the campsite has a humungous pool; the laundrette,
supermarket, medical centre, restaurant, cafe and Turkish baths are all
shuttered for the winter, but the Telebanco (ATM) is still open. And the other
camping ground right beside us offers more of the same - this is a camper's
heaven. Oh, and by the way, 300 metres down the road is a bay with a sandy
beach, clean, clear water. White-washed villas are tucked between green pine
trees all the way up the hill and an assortment of restaurants, cafes and
pizzerias offer tit-bits for when you get a bit peckish. With temperatures in
the high teens and clear skies, the feel is much the same as July and August on
the Gold Coast. But without the people. These towns are seriously closed down
for the winter!
clear skies with twinkling stars, champagne chills in a bucket of cold water;
inside - the "Gypsy Kings" play mood music. Life's a beach!!
family we met last night are doing much what we did 13 years ago - travelling
Western Europe with their three kids. They hired their van from the same company
in Holland and they live in CANNON HILL! The family they have travelled with for
the last two months live in Crown Street Holland Park, 500m from us!
of the Costa Brava filled the first part of our day today. Again deserted and
beautiful in the warm, now winter, sun. The notion of a 'season' is foreign to
us. These towns totally close down from September/October until May/June. That
means shutters up, closed shops, hotels and every other service.
city of Girona about 100 km north of Barcelona was a pleasant surprise. We
decided to drive through and stop only if we could find easy parking (a major
problem in the van!). Spain however seems far more accommodating of large
vehicles such as ours. We found safe, free parking within easy walking distance
of the centre of town and strolled into what the guide book said was a
well-preserved medieval town dominated by a Gothic Cathedral.
had gathered and showers threatened so we expected the worst - an end to our
luck with the weather! But…as we
strolled the narrow medieval streets, the clouds again cleared and we climbed
the hill to the truly Gothic master piece of Girona Cathedral. Having brought
only our sunnies, the eerieness of the solid stark cathedral was enhanced by the
artificial darkness of the glasses!
was our final desination for the day. As it turned out the freeways of Barcelona
proved more of a challenge than we anticipated. Perhaps we have become over
confident following our successful conquest of
such urban nightmares as Istanbul, Izmir, Athens and Rome? The city must
have spent billions on its freeway system for the Olympics. The spidersweb of
three to six lane highways got the better of us for a while but we eventually
found the camping grounds and are settled in for a couple of nights.
Camping grounds in Spain are heavy duty! We were impressed with L'Escala’s Cala Montgo last night, but tonight's spot takes the cake. Three pools, water slides, tennis courts, billiard room, supermarket, beach (12kms from Barcelona), restaurant, several bars and space for 2-3 thousand people! The only draw back is that we are under the flight path for Barcelona airport.
- 3 December
on a beach and seen the sun rise over the water and then returned in the
afternoon to see it set over the water on the same beach? In Barcelona this time
of the year the sun takes a rather small southern arc, rising about 7.30am and
setting about 5.30pm and from the beach where we are camped the sun both rises
and sets over the Mediterranean!
3 December, was another freak day. The sky was a deep blue and while
there was a bit of a sneaky westerly breeze every now and then, the temperature
was in the high teens for most of the day. As it was yesterday, the city today
was full of life. People here come out in droves for this sort of unseasonal
took a 'bus touristica' for a loop of the city. Sitting on the open top level,
we were able to appreciate the architectural variety of this great city! Heavily
influenced by the modernism of Gaudi, Dali and Picasso, Barcelona is a work of
art in progress. The towers of Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia (Holy Family Church)
dominate the skyline. Rebuilding commenced in 1982, almost one hundred years
after the foundation stone was laid. Even with the engineering technology
available today, Gaudi's design must be a major challenge. I hope we live long
enough to see the finished product. It will be a true masterpiece!
One area of
the city features buildings designed by Gaudi. It is easy to see how the English
language coined the word 'gaudy' to describe anything outlandish! But here it
about today we roamed through medieval streets, modern waterfront developments,
grand nineteenth century public buildings, beautifully laid out parks and
gardens, and busy streets packed with character and life.
On the hill
of Montjuic, above the city, are the sites of the major Olympic venues of 1992 -
like most similar sites, looking very empty, but, no doubt, well-used. Also in
this area is the Poblo Espanyol - a village re-created for the 1929 Exhibition
to demonstrate the major architectural Spanish styles and now
a tourist heaven of craft and souvenir shops.
Everywhere in Barcelona the Catalan spirit is
foremost. One suspects the Spanish
national flag is only displayed to comply with legal requirements. Music and
dancing fill the squares of the city. Much of it seems spontaneous and it is
obviously enjoyed by all. There is a strong South American influence in the
street music and dancing. People with obvious South American Indian heritage are
prominent in the street entertainment scene.
influence in music in particular seems strong in Spain. When you think about it,
this reversal of the 17th and 18th century colonisation of the New World is not
unprecedented. The United States long ago eclipsed Britain as the most
influential English speaking cultural power. Brazil dwarfs its 'mother country',
Portugal, in both size and influence. Mexico is bigger than Spain yet through
its close contact with America, its culture is perhaps more familiar than that
of Spain, thanks to the all pervasive American media .
is supposed to be endemic here and in other big Spanish cities. But we felt
safe, with the exception of a few moments where our now fairly high developed
sense of danger cut in. Groups of 18-20 year olds hanging about on street
corners hovering and watching the passing crowds for the 'slowest gazelle in the
herd' are not as common in Barcelona as in the cities of Eastern Europe, but the
unwary are always likely victims of the snatch and grab thief, despite the
warnings everywhere -both verbal and written.
4 December 2000
turned it on again this morning. Another beautiful day as we headed south
towards Valencia. Much of the country near the coast is just like the rest of
the 'Mediterranean Strip' that reaches from Turkey to the Atlantic
French-Spanish border, row after row of villas and units for thousands of
kilometers, all aligned to catch the sun. The colours change subtly from country
to country. The Spanish favour the white-washed look, much like the Greeks.
crowd the beachside skyline along much of the coast between Barcelona and
Valencia. Yet another boom?
the Autopista (Motorway world) we took to the local highway, N340 to experience
some of the local countryside. The villages are becoming more as we imagined
them the further south we go - wide
streets, stucco buildings and just enough dust to be authentic!
In the olive groves, orchards (oranges of course!) and fields, you can
still spot the ruins of older homes, abandoned as the new prosperity arrived.
The charm of the older pueblos still seems to be preserved
in the centres of the bigger towns.
as we were getting in the relaxed mood that these good roads, civilised traffic
habits and weather engender, BANG! A blown tyre. Janita was driving and did well
to keep the van on the road. After a tense half hour on the edge of the road
changing the tyre in heavy traffic we were off again.
the shock of the blow-out, we decided to take a 'punt' on one of the many
camping sites open along the coast. Winner! 'Torre la Sol' outside Castella
about 60kms north of Valencia. It tops all camping grounds so far! This place
has its own bull ring! It is full of the most luxurious vans we have ever seen.
All German. Some are the size of Greyhound buses. All the usual 'basics' are
available: jacuzzi, sauna, heated pool, mini golf, several restaurants, bars,
beach and... did we say 'BULL RING!' The place is packed with retired Germans -
all set in for the 'winter'.
is luxurious, but reasonably priced. We did a supermarket shop today that we
calculate would have cost us about AUS$300. In Spain, $200! Fuel is about EU
all the messages - from the Autopiste company to the man in the
"Change" office yesterday - about Spain being a "very safe
country ...BUT.. watch out for....", we have found the people we have met
to be very friendly, helpful and honest - even the payment collector on the
Autopiste this morning refunded the extra 5 pesetas we had inadvertently given
We have had
enough of this weather. Tomorrow we head inland towards Madrid where we expect
snow in the mountains and the bitter cold we came here for! One can take only so
much warmth and blue sky and besides, all our T-shirts are dirty!