from Sandy Needham

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Catalonia Dispatch

“So how did you end up in Vic?”

This question persisted throughout our stay in Spain! Our home exchange outside Barcelona was in the ancient town of Vic, the current center of the Catalonian independence movement; population 42,000. We actually enjoyed the town, as our huge, beautiful old burgher’s residence from the 18th century was just steps away from the Plaça Maior. The town has few tourists and several good restaurants around the plaça, with both Barcelona and the coast only an hour’s drive. 

Vic's Plaça Maior at night:

  ...and on Market Day (every Tuesday and Saturday):
By 1:15pm there is no trace of a market!
Note the yellow and red flags draped from balconies, proclaiming the wish for independence. The Catalan flag was hanging in the regular version and the all-red-on-yellow Communist version. Our hosts had the entire collection of Lenin's writings lined up along a wall!  

Our beautiful Vic home:

Our old building typically included our large, elaborate residence with high-ceilings one short flight up, then subsequent floors with smaller apartments and lower ceilings.

The floor tiles alone were enough to thrill me!

Elise, Jake and Larissa joined us for most of our stay. When the kids arrived in Barcelona, we celebrated on La Rambla, the main boulevard:

The prices were so reasonable in Vic that I had to point out to Elise at her first dinner that the €7 for the white wine on the menu referred not to a glass, but to the entire bottle!

Elise was the Birthday Girl this trip

The home exchange included quite a nice hybrid Lexus SUV with a pre-programed GPS and the added convenience of the host’s existing parking plans in both the center of Barcelona, where he works, and a short walk from the apartment in Vic. Our old street in Vic’s historic district offers no chance of parking.

My favorite quote from the summer was after Newton accidentally selected the Barcelona parking garage in the GPS instead of the local garage after dropping Jake and Larissa off with their luggage by the Vic plaça. Once he returned to the apartment after being guided to the Barcelona highway instead of just a couple of blocks away, he cursed, “The damn GPS has ruined my sense of direction!” 

Salami & Cheese Store
The kids enjoyed hanging around the local swimming pool a short drive away or exploring the town and sampling the delicious local food. Our favorite was an Italian restaurant, La Gruta, which made the best pizza, the best pasta and the best burgers! We returned several times. Of course, the Spanish cheeses (on which vegetarian Jake and no-red-meat Elise and Larissa concentrated), salamis, chorizos and jamon were always a reason to eat.

Local Pool

In our beautiful garden

Our first big excursion was to Gaudí's Park Güell in Barcelona. We had made the required reservation for our entry time weeks before and arrived at this amazing Gaudí creation in the middle of the hottest day imaginable. We finally had to cut our drained wanderings short in search of air conditioning.

Gaudí miraculously broke beautiful Spanish tiles into pieces and rendered them his signature mosaics:

Our kind, generous and handsome Catalan friend in Natal, Jordi (or as I refer to him, Giancarlo Mastroianni), moved back to his hometown near Vic several months before. He was our official guide extraordinaire around the area. We started with a tour of the beautiful winery, Abadal:

Here is Elise's attempt to copy Jordi's perfect long arc of wine into the mouth from the special decanter...takes years of practice!

Jordi led the way to an excellent Catalan lunch at Restaurant Ramon in the village of Santpedor.

Soon, the imposing Montserrat loomed before us:

The Basilica and Abbey Santa Maria de Montserrat

The funicular took us up and up to the top for the spectacular view of the rolling hills and farms below.

Thank you, Sweet Jordi, for your expert tour-guiding!   
The apartment has such a nice garden and pizza oven that we threw a pizza party for ourselves one evening. Jake organized an elaborate blind wine-tasting with our new wines. 

Newton was an expert pizza chef.

We had to laugh at the disparity of our wine descriptions and preferences at the end, even after having tasted some of them at the winery. All of us were quite confused! 

As we headed up from the garden, Jake tripped on the brick-high level change in the landscaping and…broke his foot. A very nice doctor at the local emergency room fixed him up with a plaster cast (€200) and sent us off to get crutches (€25). The wheel chair rental was only €1.50 per day, so Jake opted for both! What a reasonable health bill, with the dollar almost one-to-one with the euro. Jake was unamused by the mishap, but bravely rose to the requirements of traveling-while-greatly-inconvenienced!

With Jordi's suggested itinerary, the five of us took off for the weekend along the Costa Brava. 

The fantastical Salvador Dalí Museum in Figueres is a must-see:

We spent the night in a beach town, Roses, where Newton lost his wallet at dinner. We inquired at the restaurant when we discovered it missing the next morning, but to no avail; then we looked along the curb and under all the parked cars in case it fell out of Newt's pocket when we were dancing on the way home! No luck. Good-bye euros, drivers license, credit card and bank card. We carefully monitored any sign of foul play on the cards without canceling them so we could use my cards with the same numbers. I’m happy to report that worked out fine until we were able to receive new cards at our next exchange.

We passed through the seaside town of Cadaqués on our way to the Crep de Creus peninsula. There, we drove up and up to the lighthouse and ate lunch at an outdoor restaurant overlooking this:

The second night we stayed in the beach town of Platja d’Aro (Catalan spelling). This offered another pool for hanging around, plus the beach scene.

An extraordinary thing happened when we were eating a mussel-themed lunch on the beach: Newton suddenly spotted our Natal neighbor, Pascal, walking through our restaurant! We knew he commutes between Brazil and Spain (and his native Luxembourg), but we never realized that this was the Catalan town where he and his wife, my friend Carmen, have an apartment. We were in shock! Off we went, after lunch, to enjoy some wine on their breathtaking balcony. Carmen had a shock back in Natal, as well, when she saw our photo on Facebook in her home!

When we all went bowling in town that evening, Jake was able to try out this special wheelchair bowling apparatus. I lost soundly.

Our last three days in Spain were in Barcelona with Elise in a surprisingly chic AirB&b, behind this ghetto-looking door and up a decrepit staircase! It was located in the hip Born 2 neighborhood, or “Brooklyn,” as Elise called it! 

One of several plazas in every direction from our flat
We had a last dinner with Jake and Larissa before they took off for the US.

Alas, the plaster cast incorrectly positioned Jake’s ankle in a slight torque, so the stage where he could begin to put weight on it in a boot was too painful. Traveling with crutches it was! When he got to his next stop in New York, a doctor took the cast off and replaced it with a convenient removable velcro model so progress could resume.

He was sited on the dance floor with Larissa soon after at the Block Island wedding of a friend.

Larissa and Jake then moved to Vancouver for the fall, where Jake can ply his Texas Hold’em trade online.

My dream since visiting Barcelona eight years ago was about to be fulfilled: seeing Gaudí’s Casa Batlló and Sacrada Família Basilica again, but with Elise! Gaudí’s creative imagination is right out of Lewis Carroll, so I always knew that my once and future Alice - Elise - simply had to partake. How exciting it was to be re-flabbergasted at Casa Batlló through Elise’s eyes!

Organic art nouveau forms and deep sea references influence Casa Batlló throughout, rendered in painstaking workmanship.

Gaudí's trademark use of light:

Sea turtle and conch evoked:

Graded shades of blue tiles in the central atrium:

Refracted glass partitions render the atrium "watery"

Unvalted arches and a unique ventilation/drainage system in the walls of the top floor
Fantastical turrets on the roof

Elise by the Dragon Roof

As coincidence would have it, one of our dearest friends, Marty from Toronto, was visiting Barcelona with her daughter Amy. Marty is a veteran Montessori teacher and Amy, a recent college graduate. We had not seen them since visiting their island in the Thousand Islands between Canada and New York eighteen years ago. We dined at the Mercado Santa Caterina for one of the most delicious meals ever, including, hands down, the best octopus ever. What a joy to catch-up with this decades-long soulmate, whose late mother, Donna, was also my close friend and neighbor from Cleveland. We went to their Jugg Island many times. Now our daughters had a chance to go out and hang with the cool crowd of Born while we talked for hours. I love you forever, Marty.

Here are Elise and Amy with Danish girls they met.

On our last day, a picnic lunch in Ciutadella Park was followed by Gaudí’s incredible Sagrada Família – now eight additional years towards completion. 

Eight spires are currently in place, though Gaudí’s plans include eighteen spires, the completion of which will make this the tallest church in the world. It has been privately funded and sustained by tourist ticket sales, with the completion date set for 2028; this is two years past the original goal, which would have fallen on the centennial of Gaudí’s death.

Scroll down on this link to the video Elise found that demonstrates in a minute what the final Sagrada Família plans look like…quite a ways to go:

Elise was off to Los Angeles and the very lucrative-but-crazy-making full-time job in graphic design and video editing she had been suffering through for almost a year. It required a killer daily commute to Santa Monica, to boot. Soon after, her sincere wish to be laid-off came true (having very little to do there during recurring spells), along with a fantastic severance package. Immediately, demands for her free-lance services materialized from all over the place! She is now extremely happy to work from home with her cats and apply all that commuting time to the satisfying application of her quick and sure eye. Well done, Elise!

We were off to our fifth and last home exchange in Salò, on Lake Garda in Italy.


1 comment:

  1. Wow is about all I can say about Catalonia and Barcelona. The Gaudi works and the Dali museum would have been enough to satisfy me, but the rest of the stay was remarkable. I can't believe how many people you just happen to run into when you are 6,000 miles from home. Will you go to Vancouver to see Jake while he is there? It is one of my favorite cities in North America. We are looking forward to a breakfast with you on the 31st. Lets hope the stars align and make it happen.



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