Thursday, September 15, 2016

Costa Brava, Spain

Upon arriving at the Girona train station, we picked up our rental the car and drove to the B&B where Roger and Sandy were waiting with a bottle of white wine.  Good friends!  We shared a few stories about our travels and eventually started down the hill to the center for a tapas dinner at Txalaka, recommended by the B&B. It offers an expansive buffet of tapas and a good wine list. Basically you select all the tapas you want and when you are down they count the many toothpicks or small dishes and charge accordingly.  We all enjoyed the many options. Highly recommended. We made our way back up the hill via stairs and walkways, working off a few of those tapas.

We decide to spend the day, slightly gray skies, exploring Girona and walked down the hill and through the old town. We explored a few shops. Pat & Sandy really liked one shop but the clothes worked better for Sandy, who now has a new shirt. There are several pedestrian bridges across the river that provided good views of the colorful houses lining the riverbank. The timing was perfect to stop for lunch at Placa del Vi 7, recommended by Ramon at Via del Vin in Perpignan. We chose a selection of tapas-like starters and mains. Roger even managed to pull together a tasty vegan selection. Bill and Pat chose "duck breast carpaccio with apple oil and pine nuts", "tomato tartare with mashed avocados and marinated sardines", and "potato parmentier with grilled calamari and fried egg".

Sandy was longing for Cava and this triggered us recounting a tradition from our working days of celebrating the end of the week with sparkling wine. It being Friday, we decided, no time like the present for Cava! The very local Tina Set from Mas Candi (light but good), and Clos Lentiscus, Sumoll Reserva Familia, Blanc de Noir Brut Natur (a mouth full and indeed very flavorful…but hardly any bubbles!)

We then took to the walls and made our way around the old city from the top. They are quite high and we had some nice views of the city and surrounding countryside and a lot of steps up and down. The sun finally came out so by the time we got back to our B&B, we were all ready to rest and cool-off.

Downtown Girona
Walking the medieval walls of Girona (Roger & Pat above, Bill below) 

Pat & Bill walked back down for a snack in the evening while Roger and Sandy stayed in. We stopped at La Taverna Catalunya in Plaça de la Independència for some wine and patatas bravas.

Saturday turned out to be Dali Day. We were off to Figueres and Teatro-Museo Dali, aka the Dali Museum. For those not familiar with Salvador Dali, be sure to Google him. He was an extremely versatile artist who is best known for the striking and bizarre images some with very creative illusions, ie surreal works. This museum is located in his hometown and features a huge collection ranging from sketches and paintings, to imaginative "constructions". 

View from outside the museum...those seeming polka dots are actual ceramic round loaves of bread...
One of our favorite paintings is what first appears to be his wife Gala looking off to sea. But if you stand in the right spot or squint just right, suddenly you see that it is an image of Lincoln.

A favorite construction is what appears to be a living room with a sofa, pictures on a wall, draperies, etc which looks like Mae West when viewed from a specially constructed platform. 

Since our previous visit they have added an exhibit of jewelry that he designed. Incredible. 

It's impossible to capture the experience but here's a shot of a postcard showing a range of pieces there.

We found a great little restaurant nearby, Catalunya Amor Meu, where we enjoyed the grilled Padron peppers, sausages with a ratatouille like side dish and patates bravas with a half liter of red wine.

From there we drove out to the Cap de Creus peninsula. The drive is quite an experience. Once you hit the peninsula the road narrows and winds through beautifully terraced olive groves.  

We had visited Dali's house in the past and did not realize that reservations are now essential (until being so advise by our innkeeper). It is just too small and too popular now for anything else. It was too late to get reservation but his house was on our route to the Cap de Creus lighthouse. So we stopped to checkout the area again. We managed to espy a couple Dali touches from the outside while we recalled the chaotic decor inside.

Dali's Compound with his signature "egg" sculptures and two egg-like heads,
 in front of terraced hillside
Postcard with shots from Dali's home
By the time we finished our wandering, we decided to give a pass to the lighthouse (and the nearby Natural Park with it's weird rock formations) because it would have meant more kilometers on that narrow, twisty-turny road to get out there and back. And it was still a long drive back to Girona, especially with our planned stop at Empuries.

Empuries is an seaside site dating back to 7C BC. The original inhabitants traded with the Etruscans, Phoenicians and Greeks. Then it became Greek with a nearby Roman village. The two towns later merged into one under emperor Augustus in 1C BC. Over time the city lost it's trade advantages and by 3C AD was abandoned. We had visited the site on our previous trip. There has been extensive excavation work since and there is now a museum as well as a detailed audio guide.
Roman mosaic floor
Life-size statue of Asclepius, Greek God of Medicine
(the original from 2C BC which is in the museum), a replica is outside
We finished the day with tapas at Placa del Vi 7. Roger and Sandy went with a white wine blending white grenache (made from white grenache grapes) and macabu grapes. Pat & Bill had a red garnacha (Grenache), Salou, and deemed it pretty fantastic. Patatas Bravas and mushroom omelette with sausage & traditional Catalan tomato bread completed the meal.

Sunday we moved to Calella de Palafrugell on the coast. Along the route we stopped at Pubol to visit the home of Gala, Dali's wife. The house was decorated for her by Dali. It has only a few signature Dali touches. Apparently he decorated it to her taste, not his. It is basically an interesting home with a nice garden in a very small village. 

Sign displayed in Gala's House

This is a door "hiding" the radiators, painted to look like the radiators.
And for comparison to Dali's personal properties (prior postcards), here is the one from Gala's place.
Very normal by comparison, eh?
After touring the home and tiny town (basically 2 shops) we headed down the road to Bisbal, famous for its ceramics. We had lunch at a local restaurant and looked in a few shops. Our timing was off as many shops were closed, either because it was between 2 and 4pm OR because it was the Catalan Independence Day. (Yep, we know they are still part of Spain, but try explaining it to them...)  

One very cool shop was open. From the outside it look like it might have a few home decor items. Inside we found it did, but it also went on and on with everything for the home (hardware, decor, linens, ...) except food. Sandy even found a small serrated knife with a cover that is perfect for travel. (We already have such a knife that we acquired on our past trip.)

Then on to our balcony room overlooking the Med at Hotel Sant Roc. Yes Peter and Peggi, this is indeed where stayed in 2002. And it is much the same EXCEPT there is a great wine list.) We had a bottle of Cava with Sandy and Roger. Then we were off to find dinner. After perusing a few menus, we decided on the waterfront Can Gelpi. We selected grilled fish (Bill) and grilled vegetables (Pat). We were very happy with the combination and with the accompanying white wine, Petit Sios (viogner, chardonnay, muscat and petits grains).

In the morning we were off to Jardins de Cap Roig, lovely Mediterranean gardens with the Mediterranean as a back drop.  We had gorgeous, but hot weather and were glad we had arrived slightly after opening as it was quite warm by the time we left. There were so many irresistible views (right Roger?) that we have innumerable photos of the wide variety of flowers, trees, and coastline. But the most special is a shot of a bee-sized hummingbird that Bill managed to get. Honest. That hummingbird is the size of a large bee.

We went to lunch at Calau, a self-service tapas spot and after 6 tapas, 3 small plates and some local white wine we were quite refreshed.

After lunch we returned to the hotel to relax and to enjoy the view from our balcony. We also researched potential tours for our visit to Barcelona and started the booking process. Then a wine break on the terrace with Roger and Sandy before heading out to Bar K for more excellent tapas, some of the best we have had including several that were custom made for Roger’s diet. The white wine, Mas Oller, was also excellent.

Keeping with the relaxed pace we walked along the coastal path to Levant in the morning, stopping now and then for photos of beaches, shoreline and villages. Along the way Pat was in off-and-on communications with "Skip the Line Tours" to arrange a day of touring in Barcelona. We keep wondering how we EVER managed to tour without iPhones!

On the return route Pat & Sandy shopped. This time Pat managed to find a shirt she liked. Then we went to lunch at Can Gelpi. The food and waterside location are great. Fortunately we had forgotten how erratic the service can be. Last time they delivered our starters and entrees at the same time and delivered to Roger & Sandy later and at a slower pace. This time? You guessed it. We waited and waited for our grilled sardines (Pat) and grilled turbot (Bill) which were delivered well after Roger & Sandy had finished theirs. Still the food and location were as good as before.

After lunch we took a break and worked on this blog and arrangements for some of our Barcelona touring. We walked down to the beach later in the afternoon and dipped our toes in the cool water. After a glass of white wine at the hotel we went to La Gavina for dinner, patatas braves and roasted peppers (pebrots del padró) along with a bottle of white wine, 99 Punts. 

We woke to thunder, lightning and rain on your move day to Barcelona.  By the time we had finished breakfast the sun was out. Before leaving Pat wanted a photo of her in front of the headboard of our bed. She remembered the one from 2002, taken with our first digital camera and thought the comparison would be fun... The color correction for digital photos is MUCH better today.
Pat in 2002 (the reddish tint in the hair and the deeper red of the painted headboard
reflect 2002 color correction technology. 
Pat and headboard in 2016
We drove down the 15 mile, twisty-turny Corniche (coastal road) between Sant Feliu de Guíxols and Tossa de Mar. The coast is spectacular but sometimes we were reminded of Big Sur and sometimes of the Maine apparently it's not unique. 

Then on to see the medieval old town of Tossa de Mar. We had really enjoyed our previous visit there but now it is quite overrun with tourists. This combined with the many pedestrian and oneway streets made driving and parking a challenge. And made a visit less appealing. So we drove on to Blanes and stopped at Sibaris for lunch where we enjoyed immensely the "grilled vegetables with romesco sauce" and "scallop gratin with mouselline". 

We knew we were just a few hundred feet below the Marimurtra Botanic gardens, but Google planned to send us back around town on a 20 minute drive to get there. So we asked the staff and it was indeed a short drive up the hill. (Overall Google Maps is a fantastic tool, but sometimes you wonder about their algorithms.) The gardens feature arid and mediterranean climate plants with sections focused on regions (S Africa, Mexican desert, Southern California...) and offer some great views over the coast.

We then continued on to Barcelona.

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