Road Trip! Parte 1: Barcelona-Cadaqués-Besalú-La Seu d’Urgell.

DSCN9662

There’s just something about a road trip. I love being behind the wheel on the open road. Hay algo sobre un viaje en coche. Me encanta estar detrás el volante en la carretera abierta. 

DSCN9664

That said, I hate driving in cities. To avoid driving in Barcelona, I arranged to pick up the car at Barcelona Prat. After picking up the car and maneuvering it to the motorway, we were on our way by 10:30. Ahora, tengo que admitir una cosa. Odio conducir en las ciudades. Para evitar conducir en Barcelona, hice la reserva de coche en la oficina de Barcelona Prat. Después de recoger el coche y encontrar la autopista, estábamos en el camino antes de las 10.30. 

DSCN9638

I was having problems with the navigation. I’m pretty used to Google Maps for walking, bikes and public transport, and I have no experience with a car GPS system. Whoever had the car before us had changed the system to avoid toll roads, which I didn’t figure out until it was already too late. Foreshadowing…El sistema de navegación del coche me daba bastante problemas. Estoy acostumbrado a Google Maps para caminar, ir en bici y transporte público, y no tengo experiencia usar un sistema de GPS de coche. La persona que tenía el coche antes cambió el sistema para evitar peajes, que no me di cuenta hasta que ya era demasiado tarde. Un señal de cosas de provenir. 

DSCN9639

The first stop was so fitting for me this year, Cadaqués. The village of 2820 people has been visited by many famous people, including artist Salvador Dalí and writer Federico García Lorca. Luis Buñuel probably visited with them too. The village is on the Cap de Creus cape near France and offers stunning views of the Mediterranean. La primera parada tenía mucho sentido para mi este año. Cadaqués. El pueblo de 2820 residentes ha sido visitado por muchos famosos, incluso un tal artista que se llama Salvador Dalí y un tal escritor que se llama Federico García Lorca. Creo que Luis Buñuel visitó Cadaqués con ellos. El pueblo está en el cabo Cap de Creus cerca de Francia y ofrece vistas impresionantes del Mediterráneo.

DSCN9641

My mom was shocked. I hadn’t told her anything about where we were going, and she loved it. I had been once before, in 2011, and I always wanted to go back. I still want to go back to explore the cape hiking. We didn’t stay long. I popped into the Dalí museum to get a post card for a friend. With the shorter autumn days, I was a bit nervous about driving. Mi madre estaba asombrada. No le dije nada sobre donde ibamos, y le encantó. Había estado una vez antes, en 2011, y siempre he querido volver. Todavía quiero volver para explorar el cabo al pie en rutas de senderismo. No quedamos mucho tiempo allí. Fui al Museo Dalí para comprar un postal para una amiga. Con los días más cortos de otoño, estaba nervioso de conducir. 

DSCN9646

I then proceeded to make my first mistake listening to the car’s GPS system. While we saw some beautiful coastal villages, I knew we should be going more toward the interior of the province of Girona. When we reached the French border, my suspicions were confirmed. Después, hice el primer error por escuchar al sistema de GPS del coche. Aunque vimos algos pueblos de costa preciosos por culpa el error, sabía que deberíamos estar yendo hacía el interior de Girona ya. Cuando llegamos a la frontera francesa, mis sospechas fueron confirmadas. 

DSCN9675

I figured out the way I wanted to go, and we passed Figueras, Dalí’s home town on the way to another special village of Girona I wanted to share with my mom, Besalú. The village of 2400 residents is most famous for its medieval bridge over the River Fluvià. It was as stunning as ever, and my mom started to understand just why I love the Iberian peninsula so much. Encontré la ruta que quería hacer, y pasamos Figueras, donde nació Dalí, por el camino para ir a otro pueblo especial de Girona que quería enseñarle a mi madre, Besalú. El pueblo de 2400 habitantes es más conocido por su puente medieval por el Río Fluvià. Era tan impresionante como nunca, y mi madre empezó a entender porque me encanta la Península Ibérica tanto. 

DSCN9677

The navigation system acted up again and took us through a back farm road. The sun was setting, and I wanted to get to our hotel as soon as possible. My heart sank when the GPS told us we still had two hours to go before arriving at the Parador in La Seu d’Urgell. Of course, as the darn thing was set to avoid tolls, which I didn’t know, and I thought I had selected the fastest route (not what that stood for!), it ended up taking us more than two hours. El sistema de navegación empezó a comportarse mal una vez más y nos llevo por una pista de granja. El sol estaba poniéndose, y quería llegar al hotel tan pronto como posible. Me puse triste y frustrado cuando el GPS me dijo que todavía nos quedaban dos horas antes de llegar al Parador de La Seu d’Urgell. Claro, como estaba evitando peajes, que no sabía, y pensaba que había elegido la ruta más rápido (no era lo que el icono quería decir, creo), nos tardó más de dos horas. 

It took us through some pretty bad roads up and down and all around the Pyrenees. Nos llevó por muchas carreteras malas arriba, abajo y por todos los lados de los Pirineos. 

I stopped for another café to give me some energy after crossing the Lleida border. I had already given up on seeing that village I’ve wanted to see for eight years, Puigcerdà, and my heart ached to go there when I saw its name on a sign. Pare para tomar otro café para darme energía después de entrar la provincia de Lleida. Ya he dejado la idea de ver ese pueblo donde he querido ir durante 8 años, Puigcerdà, y el corazón quería ir allí cuando vi su nombre en una indicación. 

DSCN9690

We finally arrived at the Parador. I’ve always wanted to stay in a Parador, and it was a nice experience. Was it the best hotel I ever stayed in? No. Did it live up to my expectations? No. It was on par with a nicer Holiday Inn in the US. It was still a great place to stay, and I want to stay in another one with a special someone. I wish we had had more time to enjoy the hotel. Por fin, llegamos al Parador. Siempre he querido dormir en un Parador, y era una buena experiencia. ¿Fue el mejor hotel donde me he alojaod? No. ¿Llegó a mis expectivas? No. Era parecido de un buen Holiday Inn en los EEUU. Todavía era un buen hotel para dormir, y quiero alojarme en uno algún día con alguien especial. Ojalá tuviéramos más tiempo para disfrutar del hotel pijo.

DSCN9687

Alas…the next morning we had to leave early for day two…La Seu d’Urgell (information in the next entry, I promise!) to…Bueno, la mañana siguiente tuvimos que salir pronto para día dos….La Seu d’Urgell (información en la próxima entrada, os prometo) hasta….

A continuación…

DSCN9649

Girona…a Catalán and Dalí experience.

  IMG_2615

One of my favourite Christmases was the Christmas I spent in Girona in 2011. Granted, I left for the trip on the 26th, so I had spent Christmas in Madrid, but it’s the spirit of things. Everything was still decorated for Christmas, and Sant Esteve (Saint Stephen) is an important day in Catalunya. For those who haven’t heard of this amahzing (I’ve been watching Happy Endings, so read that in a “Penny voice”) place, it’s the province between Barcelona and France on the Catalán coast, la Costa Brava. Girona is probably most known for its beaches, but it also has some incredible sites in the Pyrenees too that I’m dying to explore.

My first time in Girona (Gerona in Spanish, but officially it’s the Catalán spelling and pronunciation Girona) was actually in 2008 for a connecting flight to Italia. I was still getting a grasp of Spanish geography at that time and thought flying from Girona to Italia would be a good idea when I was living in Andalucía. I still can’t believe I was ever so naïve. I came to the conclusion that it had to be a popular place for tourist in the summer based on this brief time at the airport.

In 2011, I had the chance to return and explore both the capital city and the province. I wanted to ring in the new year in Barcelona in hopes that by being in the city at the stroke of midnight, it would make fate transfer me to Barcelona. No such luck. I digress. This is Girona’s time to shine. I spent a few days in the capital city and making day trips to explore the beautiful province. I arrived via the night train from Madrid going on little sleep. Excitement and café amb llet (café con leche in Catalán) kept me going as I found the hostal in the city centre and began to explore the beautiful city.

The capital city of Girona has some amazing views. It’s located at the heart of four rivers with a ton of bridges (with a lot of locks on the bridges from young couples wanting to demonstrate their forever love, it’s a thing) and you can see the mountains in the distance. I remember walking along the walls and watching the sunset from high upon the old town near the cathedral.

The next day I did the typical trip to Cadaques and Figueres. The Dalí museums were a bit expensive for my budget, but that doesn’t change the fact these places are incredibly beautiful. No wonder they attract so many tourists year round. I walked along the coast for a while before having lunch and catching a bus to Figueres. I’ll be honest, for Dalí’s home town, there is not much else beside his museum. It is well worth checking out, especially for fans of him. (He is the only artist I can truly say I admire. I’m a book, music and film guy, and art goes over my head. However, Dalí seems to have experienced the same weird nightmares I do, so I can at least appreciate him.)

IMG_2745

The last day of my Girona experience, I went to see one of the most beautiful bridges in the Greatest Peninsula in the World. I am a great aficionado of bridges, perhaps because I love being around water so much. The bridge in Besalú is one of the coolest bridges, and the city has a medieval flare.

I have yet to return to Girona, but I am dying for an opportunity. The capital has a distinct northern European vibe going for it, and the sheer beauty of the area makes it a popular vacation destination. With so many interesting places, it’s easy to get off the beaten path. There are a lot more than just seven meravelles, but these are the ones that are sticking with me this morning.

Set Meravelles

Girona

IMG_2535

Girona, the capital city of the province with nearly 100,000 habitants, is one of the coolest (as in American English for superchulo and not cold) cities in Spain. Located 99 km or 62 miles from Barcelona, Girona is well worth a visit. There are several churches, including a Gothic cathedral and old Roman walls. The city wall walkway is one of my fave things about the city. Any word of Catalán is more than well-appreciate here, as it is probably the most Catalán of the four provinces of Catalunya.

Cadaqués

IMG_2754

Cadaqués has a population of about 2000 people, but in the summers, the population can be up to 10 more than that. Its location on the Costa Brava and proximity to Barcelona make it a popular tourist destination, and it’s no stranger to tourists. Salvador Dalí visited often as a child, and Pablo Picasso also spent time there. You can visit the Salvador Dalí House and Museum today and walk along the coast. Fun trivia fact: the Catalán spoken here is more similar to the variant found in the Balearic Islands than the rest of Catalunya.

Figueres

IMG_2785

Figueres, home of 45,000 folks, is also the home and birthplace of Salvador Dalí. 40 km or 25 miles from Girona capital, the small city is popular with fans of the surrealist artist. In addition to the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dalí, the city houses a castle and a Gothic church. It is also home to Spanish and Catalán gay icon Mónica Naranjo.

Besalú

IMG_2809

Besalú may only have 2000 habitants, but it is an awesome place to visit. It’s located 31 km (18 miles) from Girona capital, and its main attraction is the bridge. It is a beautiful medieval pueblo and a step back in time. It could easily be on my own top ten list of beautiful pueblos (villages) in the peninsula.

Puigcerda (to be discovered)

Puigcerdà has been at the top of my bucket lists of villages to visit for quite some time. It’s a three-hour train ride from Barcelona, so I keep saying “próxima vez, próxima vez, propera vegada” (next time, next time, Catalán next time). It’s a village of around 10,000 people located at the very north of Girona, high in the Pyrenees, almost in France. I saw the turn off on my whirlwind trip to Andorra and vowed once again to visit there. It’s supposed to have some of the most beautiful views of the Pyranees. It’s 144 KM (86 miles) from Girona capital.

Olot (to be discovered)

Olot, home of 34,000 people, is one of the rainiest places in Catalunya, so much that there is a saying in Catalán: Si no plou a Olot, no plou enlloc. (If it’s not raining in Olot, it’s not raining anywhere). Perhaps the reason for this is because it’s located in the middle of not one but four volcanos. The last eruption was about 11,000 years ago, so chances are, it’s not going to erupt any time soon. We think.

Costa Brava

IMG_3278

The Wild Coast is one of the most popular tourist places in the Peninsula due to its good weather and natural beauty. Although the North Coast is probably more beautiful, it also rains 379 days a year here. Not an opportune time to swim or sunbathe, eh? Blanes, Tossa del Mar and Llobregat del Mar are just some of the many villages and cities along the spectacular Mediterranean coast.