Thursday, January 31, 2013
Yesterday was the last day that we had to escape the house because of the painting going on. We decided to make the short trip to Cadaques to look at some art galleries. Cadaques was the haunt of Dali and the picturesque village is a magnet for artists. It is very quiet at this time of year and as a bonus parking is free.
We had a coffee and walked along one lane looking at one gallery, where all the pictures of Cadaques were an intense blue. On the waterfront we did find a map showing all the galleries but we walked along the front and up more lanes without finding one open. It is an excuse for another trip on a weekend.
We decided to have our ham and cheese baguette overlooking the bay at Port Ligat, where Dali lived. The light here is always very special. Today there were very few people. We were just about finished our lunch when a fellow dressed in a wetsuit walked by hauling his kayak on wheels. After exchanging holas we discovered that he was English and he jokingly said that he had been on holidays for fifteen years. On this trip he had come from Cornwall via the Chunnel to the Cap de Creus area. Home was a camper van. When the sea was quiet he kayaked and when it was windy he windsurfed. He was about to leave on a four day kayaking and camping trip up the coast towards France. Peter makes enough money fixing engines and doing other odd jobs. It sounds like someone we know. He escaped the rat race many years ago and is enjoying life to the fullest. We watched him set off and decided to finish our excursion by visiting the Cap de Creus.
It was a lovely trip through the wild rock formations to the Cap. Even our usual coffee shop was closed so we clambered over rocky outcrops to the restaurant, where we enjoyed a lovely cup of tea outside, overlooking the water. There were several French people and a couple from the Netherlands having drinks or coffee and cake. In the distance we spotted Peter making excellent progress in the kayak. Finally we lost sight of him as he rounded the lighthouse. Back in the car we thought we might spot him again but with the rock formations and so many big rocks it wasn't to be.
Back in the port I kept looking to see if our kayaking friend had arrived but we didn't spot him. Today's twenty-three degree sunny weather with little wind is perfect for a kayaking trip. We're still watching the bay for a lone kayaker.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Monday. Our plan was to drive up the coast to Collioure in France but the gale force winds quickly made us change our minds. There were white caps and big rollers as far as the eye could see. In fact the spume coming off the waves made everything look a little misty.
We decided to visit Empuriabrava for some shopping not available in other places. The drive was quite beautiful with half a very vivid rainbow hovering right over Llanca. The bright yellow mimosas and cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Unfortunately, our favourite restaurants were closed so we settled for mussels and pizza at a restaurant overlooking the beach. It wasn't the birthday lunch we had planned but it is January and lots of places are closed on Mondays right now.
It really wasn't very pleasant walking into the wind but we did notice two storks had found refuge in the usually empty nests. I think that this is a true indication that spring is nearly here.
Saturday, January 26, 2013
This was our last morning in Madrid and in preparation for our journey home we walked to the San Miguel Market for picnic supplies for the train. San Miguel is popular gourmet market where people go for wine and tapas. Our first purchase was some Comte cheese followed by four small crusty buns and some rosemary grissini. Little marzipan cakes were our choice for dessert along with mandarins from the huge fruit stall. There were lots of jams at another stall, gelato, wine bars, and seafood stalls where your choice could be cooked on the spot. We had a cortado at the coffee bar before leaving the market.
Once again we took the high speed AVE train back to Figueres Vilafant. Not too far from Madrid there were patches of snow in the fields. We thoroughly enjoyed our picnic choices that were much better than those offered on the train. After a short, comfortable four hours we arrived at Vilafant feeling much better than we would after a plane journey.
It was very pleasant to see the bright, blue, cloudless sky on our drive to the Port with the snow covered mountains in the distance. We return to tranquility.
Friday, January 25, 2013
This morning was time for shopping along the Fuencarral, a long pedestrian street. We retraced our steps and continued to Puerta del Sol, the giant square, where demonstrators were readying themselves for a march protesting the austerity measures. There were lots of police but the march was quite peaceful, except for all the whistles the protestors were blowing. From here we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant by our hotel. All I can say is too much meat, which I won't even begin to describe. Another meal left practically untouched by me. Madrid is a carnivore's paradise.
We strolled past the opera house to the Palacio Real, which is a huge palace of over 3,400 rooms, the largest palace in Europe and former home of Bourbon royalty. Now it is used for state occasions as the royals live in the outskirts of Madrid. There was a huge, slow moving, line at the palace that we weren't inclined to stand in. Perhaps another time. The sun was out so we headed for the zoo.
It was quite cold by now. Perhaps this is what made the animals active or maybe it was the fact that they were looking for their keepers to serve them their dinner. We were very fortunate to encounter only a handful of other visitors the whole time we were there. The beautiful, snow white leopard was separated only by the glass on his enclosure. He came right up to us several times looking right at us. Every time he heard a zoo keeper's cart he would search for his dinner and then with lithe movements move around the cage on his huge paws.
We enjoyed a small, very young orangutan climbing ropes, then rolling around in the hay, picking up debris and shaking it in the faces of the two older females. He was lucky they were so passive because he looked as if he was enjoying annoying them. There was a very tiny baby hanging on to one of the females. Near this enclosure high on top of the trees the lemurs chased each other. The meerkats were all lined up along a wall looking for something, probably dinner. The rhinoceros with his huge armour was only a very few feet away from us. His mouth kept coming through the wooden fence to eat some grass. He got tired waiting to get out of the cold and rammed the closed door to his inside enclosure a few times. The elephants had their backs to us swaying back and forth in front of their inside space.
There were several giraffes, and a zebra chased a bird away. Most of the time we walked around we could see white storks on the ground or in their nests and hear the clack-clack-clacking of their beaks. The storks mingled freely with beautiful pinky orange flamingoes in a pond by the entrance. We were amazed at the size of the Giant Otters swimming in their pond then coming over to us and standing on their hind legs looking at us, making whiny noises and showing us lots of needle sharp teeth
It was nearing six as we walked by the pandas once again. Across the path, we spotted the red panda, who had managed to catch some kind of black bird. He was tearing away at it, while its wings were still flapping. Our last stop was the sea lion pools. One seal put on a little show for us swimming around and then leaping out of the water over a rock. it was a perfect visit to the zoo.
The streets of Madrid were much more lively tonight with many people out walking and shopping. As we walked to dinner we passed another smaller demonstration against the austerity measures. These were the pensioners, who are not getting raises to keep pace with the cost of inflation. Many of these people were dressed in green capes with pointed green hats. Why? We don't know.
We reached the Latin Quarter, which is a trendy little district filled with restaurants. Not really knowing where to go we stopped at a modern bistro with background music being played by live musicians. It was ten o'clock and we were the first people seated for dinner. Gradually, the restaurant filled up. The best part of the meal was sitting on a glass floor right on top of the crumbling, ancient ruins of the old Madrid city hall. A great ending to another day.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
We left the museum in search of a late lunch, which we had at the Museo de Jamon, one of the essential places to visit in Madrid. The restaurant is lined with hams hanging from the ceiling. Lunch is very affordable with lots of ham type sandwiches being served. We opted for ham, eggs and chips. It was good but there was certainly a lot of it. With our beers they served mortadella on little buns and some kind of salami type sausage. Mine went untouched. Oh, for some fresh fish!
Our final stop was the The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. With over 1,600 paintings the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection was once the second largest private collection in the world after the British Royal Collection. A competition was held to house the museum in 1986 after Baron Thyssen, having tried to enlarge his Museum in Villa Favorita in Lugano, searched for a location in Europe. His wife, a former Miss Spain, influenced him to move his family's huge collection plus many pictures he acquired at the time of the depression in the United States to Spain. The unusual salmon pink tone of the walls in the museum was her choice. There were works of the early Flemish and Dutch painters like Jan Van Eyck, Albrecht Dürer, and Hans Holbein and many contemporary works. It was very interesting to see the area where a huge Titian is being restored. Sadly, due to the late hour and a full day we were flagging and had to return to the hotel.
Once again we are making our plans for our last full day in Madrid but they will be dependent on the weather.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
We saw several masterpieces but one of my favourites was the completed restoration of a work that was likely painted by one of Leonardo da Vinci's apprentices alongside the Renaissance master in his workshop. It is the oldest and most important copy of the Mona Lisa. For years the copy, which shows a younger and brighter version of the face that has captivated crowds for centuries, was believed to be one of dozens of replicas made long after Leonardo's death. The painting has belonged to the Prado ever since the museum was founded in 1819 with the Spanish royalty's art collection. It had a background covered in black and a frame believed to be of oak, frequent in the work of northern European artists. Experts began a technical study of the copy when the Louvre requested it two years ago for an exhibition opening next month. They found it had been painted on walnut, just like the Mona Lisa, and infrared images showed traces of background mountains just like in the original painting. Unlike the Mona Lisa, there were no crowds around the picture but it was still fascinating all the same. The picture is believed to be that of Lisa Gherardini, the Mona Lisa. We were lucky to see it today as soon it will travel to Paris to sit next to the Mona Lisa. More studies of the picture will be made there to try to determine which of Leonardo's students was responsible for the painting.
There were some outstanding pieces including a map showing the American continent showing geographical discoveries between 1492 and 1500. It was probably used to show the King and Queen, who had sponsored the trip. I found it really fascinating and I'm sorry I didn't buy a copy of it. My favourite exhibit was a giant globe showing the world in the sixteen hundreds. It is quite accurate in some places but North America is still left fairly blank or at least open to some speculation. This globe was quite beautiful.
We tore ourselves away from the Naval Museum and walked toward Plaza del Sol admiring the truly grand buildings on our way. One building was topped with giant horses and charioteers. It certainly is a feast for your eyes walking in Madrid. Spain had such wealth at one time.
It was a cold walk back to the hotel in zero degree weather to plan for tomorrow. In fact we saw a few flakes of snow.
Today we set off on a new adventure. We took the new AVE, high speed train service, from Figueres Vilafant to Madrid. Web specials made the price very reasonable. What a joy. You arrive at the station, park right outside, pass your baggage through an X-ray machine but you don\'t have to disrobe or remove your shoes. You walk out to the train and that's it. The seats in tourist class are extremely comfortable with lots of leg room. The train stops at Girona and then the main station Barcelona Sants. What a trip. We arrived in less than an hour at speeds of 299 kilometres an hour. After a very brief stop we were off again heading south to Tarragona. From here we traveled north passing through flat countryside with lots of mesas in the distance. Then the land became hillier with lots of olive trees on the lower slopes and then finally the land was flatter but arid. We stopped at Lleida and Zaragossa then Madrid. It was a lovely trip that took four hours without all the hassles of flying. We did buy a sandwich at the cafeteria but next time we will probably take our own. There was even a movie showing, The Artist, which we had already seen.
Once in Madrid we took the Metro to our hotel. The subway service in Madrid is very good and much cheaper than Barcelona. You can travel all over the city for a euro. Very helpful Metro employees are only too willing to steer you in the direction you want to go.
Once we were settled in our hotel we took a walk around the local area, Callao, which included all the major chain stores found everywhere in Spain, lots of McDonald's and Starbucks and some theatres. We walked to the big square called the Puerta del Sol. This is the place to come to on New Year's Eve to eat your twelve grapes, before the clock finishes chiming twelve times, to give you good luck. We stopped on our way back to the hotel at Lizzaran, a tapas bar. We frequent Lizzaran in Figueres, which is a little nicer than this Lizzaran but still great tapas. Why can I never think of all these combinations on little pieces of bread when I want to make a small open faced sandwich?
After a brief rest stop at the hotel we took to the streets again. We spotted a shop selling costumes. What a find. Carnaval is next month. We looked at the costumes that were quite inexpensive. Unfortunately, we couldn't decide on anything before the shop closed. We will return. In fact later in this evening\'s walk we passed several costume shops all gearing up for the Carnaval season.
We stopped for dinner in a restaurant near the hotel. There were some nice touches like a little glass of pumpkin soup and a lovely chocolate truffle to finish the meal. I didn't like my spaghetti bolognese at all. Seamus had a steak, which he seemed to like. It was time to return to the hotel to plan for tomorrow.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
It was time to leave Vic and its well preserved, beautiful old buildings. We drove through streets lined on both sides with giant plane trees. Leaving town many of the apartments were flying Catalan independence flags. This time we took a different route through the mountains towards Girona. It was much colder here and we saw a sight that we never expected to see in Spain, a truck filled with salt sanding the highway.
Our lunchtime stop was a restaurant just off the highway with lots of cars and trucks in the parking area. It was another menu of the day only in Catalan. My first course was mussels cooked in a lovely broth served with slabs of home made bread. The main course was chicken breast with a roast potato and green pepper. Seamus took a blind stab at the Catalan menu. His first course was tagliatelle in a tomato-ish sauce. But his main course turned out to be fatty pig's feet topped with pieces of sepia or squid. He ate the squid but left the rest pretty much undisturbed. We shared an almond mousse and nougat ice cream for dessert. This trip has wreaked havoc on eating smaller portions and not clearing our plates. Tomorrow we start again.
It was someone's birthday yesterday and we decided to celebrate and escape the painting going on in the house by taking a road trip. Our destination was Vic, a charming city in Catalunya situated between Girona and Barcelona. The trip across country was very pleasant traveling through green fields with either winter vegetables or grass growing. Early cherry trees were just starting to bloom and the Pyrenees in the distance had a light dusting of new snow.
We arrived in the town of Vic about one o'clock. Most of the shops were closed and there were very few people about. Obviously, the people of Vic are enthusiastic followers of lunch and siesta until four. Very quickly we discovered the town square with its beautiful arcades. The vast square is packed-down sand, and from pictures we saw in a coffee shop many events are held there including markets, performances, fiestas with giant people and even those acrobatic competitions, where people climb on each others backs to form a pyramid. We located the cathedral, which was closed until four and the Roman cathedral and Episcopalian museum both closed until Tuesday. Not to worry, it was time for lunch. For ten euros we had wine, water, a salad with smoked salmon, escalope of veal and a lovely very moist cake with what tasted like butterscotch dripping over the top. All this was finished off with an espresso.
Our hotel was in an old renovated stone farmhouse with stone walls in the room and lovely, crooked, woodworm beams gracing the ceiling. We returned to Vic to visit the Cathedral first built in the Romanesque style in the fourteenth century. It was quite different from other churches we have visited as the overwhelming theme was black and gold. The black pillars looked like they had gold leaf or at least gold paint on them. All the pictures were very dark but decorated with quite a bit of gold.
Nine o'clock. Time for dinner. And what a dinner it was. It started with a tray of local cured meats, which the area is famous for with toasted bread and tomatoes. You cut the tomatoes and rub it on the bread and then eat the delicious pan tomat. This was followed by small balls of cod deep fried in batter. Next came two fried eggs with the most amazing deep yellow golden yolks. Main course was grilled sea bass. Since it was Seamus' birthday the server brought, unasked, his dessert complete with numbered candles showing his age. All this was accompanied by a hearty rendition of Happy Birthday. Now this is service since I hadn't asked for anything. They knew it was his birthday from his passport at check in. Another coffee with petit fours. What a lovely meal but much too much eating.
Sunday, January 13, 2013
Some storks were foraging in the open fields along with a big brown ruff and some spiky topped northern lapwings. Perhaps the highlight of today's walk was spotting the small, elegant red-footed falcon with its orange-buff crown.
By now it was dusk. On our way home we spotted a field filled with little and great egrets. Further along the road a fox with a huge bushy tail darted across the road in front of us.
We had worked up quite an appetite on our walk today. An espresso and two banyuls or little sugary coated donuts at a local bakery managed to revive us.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
We haven't really taken advantage of the warm weather we have had this last week. Once again it was twenty-four degrees celsius but very windy. The last time we were at St. Pere Pescador it was still beach weather. Today the big, long, wide beach was nearly deserted. We set off battling the wind with no real plan on how far we would walk. I'm glad we weren't swimming today as the white capped waves were huge. After about fifteen minutes we were into the rhythm of the walk and we ignored the strong wind blowing in our faces. We walked and walked finally spotting a campground, with flags flying, that from a distance looked liked it was open. Coffee perhaps? We crossed the beach, walked up the path only to find out that like everything else, it was closed. We saw one man then another. They were looking to go into the dunes, which they eventually did. Then another head popped up, resembling a meerkat. This is a gay cruising area.
Monday, January 7, 2013
On a warm Saturday evening everyone in the village was standing in front of the town hall, looking out to sea, listening to Christmas songs in Catalan. It was the Night of the Three Kings and they were soon to arrive by traditional mallorcan boats. Three Kings Day or Epiphany is a big holiday in Catalunya, and the time that presents are received rather than at Christmas. Boys and girls lined the dock holding lovely, multicoloured paper lanterns, many of them homemade, to light the way for the Kings.
Eventually, the Kings and their retinues make their way to the town hall and climb up to the first floor balcony, where they are introduced by the mayor. Each king addressed the audience with various messages, "You shall be good kids." The crowd applauds. "You shall tidy your rooms," Lots of laughter. After more speeches the Kings made their way out to the street for more photo ops and chats slowly moving towards the ballroom. Each child in the village is called up to the stage to receive their present from one of the Kings. Finally, it is all over. Everyone heads home for dinner and more importantly to leave out some sweet wine and pastries for the visiting Kings, when they visit overnight to leave present for everyone in the family. Sometimes they even come with their camels.