Trevor and Paulene are still travelling away… Here’s what they have to say about the journey from Meze to Barcelona.
Here we go again on a wet day in Barcelona.
Instead of driving directly from Meze to Barcelona (about 4 hours), we decided to deviate to the coast – turning off the tollway at Perpignan and heading straight for Collioure. Claude had informed us this could take up to eight hours, but that it was worth it. I had seen this region in one of Silvio Riviere’s programs, “Global Village” on SBS, and I had been impressed by what is known as the Vermillion Coast.
Just before we arrived in Perpignan we were stunned to turn a corner on the road and discover towering ahead of us is the Pyrennes, covered in snow, clear and beautiful. It is moments like these that give me such a buzz when travelling.
As soon as we arrived in Collioure, we all expressed our pleasure for taking this route. I had been somewhat concerned at seeing all the twists and turns on the map, and wondering what we were letting ourselves in for. However the road was very good, except for the wind gusts that periodically tried very hard to blow us off the road or into other vehicles – probably a combination of the mountains and sea. Signs and wind socks were indicators that wind issues are common in this area.
Collioure boasts a large fort; a chateau; and a port, set right on the seaside with a quaint little town; and walkways around the seafront in the shadow of the all dominating fort. It was cold and gusty, and getting out of the car was unpleasant. We headed, as we always do, straight for a coffee shop/bar (with toilets), and once fortified we ventured out feeling more capable of facing this tempest.
We walked a short walk around the fort into another smaller quainter part of town (if that was possible) and tried to get some information for the crossing to Spain from the ever-present tourist office. However they could offer no information on Spain, so off we drove on these twisty windy roads exclaiming at the beauty of one small coastal village after another. Stopping on a rocky cliff with stunning views, it seemed like the winds could sweep us off our feet and blow us, and the car, into the roaring seas below. We were glad to return to the refuge of the vehicle, holding our breath until we were safely on our way again.
We could easily have spent a couple of days exploring this region, because it is so beautiful - preferably in warmer weather.
We stopped at the border into Spain; an abandoned post, well-graffiti-ed, the winds and rubbish swirling around it.
The coastal towns in Spain seemed to want to compete with and outdo the French ones, so we were sad to leave the glories of the coastal road and headed for the small Spanish city of Figueres.
We decided on a late lunch there, and enjoyed some tapas – with the sun breaking through. We had been all mastering the French language quite well, with Trevor bonjour-ing, au revoir-ing and Merci-ing quite confidently. Suddenly here was a new language and culture to adjust to, and we were scrambling to our guides to work out “please” (complacer), “toilet” (inodoro), “thank you” (gracias), “hello” (hola), and “goodbye” (despedia) in Spanish. Four English speaking people with a French speaking navigation system, in a Spanish speaking country – interesting.
And so to Barcelona! The driving took about 8 hours from Meze, but we agreed the deviation was really worth it. The two men shared the driving and they changed reasonably frequently to keep themselves sane and rested.
We were to be in Barcelona for one week, and the time stretched out before us.
Our accommodation, booked on the web through Friendly Rentals, is ideally located right in the middle of the city, on the Placa Espanya. As always, there are surprises, such as the smallness of the second bedroom, with no drawers or hanging space, (which was all located in the much bigger main bedroom). Great for families but not so good for friends travelling together. Other problems included the WiFi not working, the safe refusing to lock, and no English-speaking channels on television. However, we remedied the first two problems by speaking with Friendly Rentals, who dispatched an energetic young Londoner to sort out the first two problems, and a pack of cards and evenings of Five Hundred sorted out the third.
Travelling with the iPad has been really good. So far we have had wi-fi everywhere we have stayed, and so have not required to use the 3G function yet. We are continually using it to look up information we need, keep in touch with family and friends, keeping up with bill paying and banking in Australia, acquiring weather forecasts, downloading photos as we go, sending off blogs to Holidays for Couples, etc.
We have had more of an issue with our telephones. Trevor and I travelled with iPhones, intending to get a local microchip as soon as we arrived in Europe. However after purchasing this, we could not make calls to Australia, and we were told by the Orange provider in France this was because our iPhone was not unlocked. However, I had gone through what I found to be a difficult and tedious process with Optus before we left Australia, and really believed it to be unlocked. What was more surprising was that, despite allegedly being unlocked, I could still make local calls within France on the iPhone. Eventually language difficulties wore us down and we bought a cheap mobile from Orange with about €50 of credit on it, a total of about €80. I was very grateful to be able to ring Australia and sort out a few difficulties with our bank. However when I next tried to call Australia we were in Spain, and discovered we could not make any calls. On yet another visit to Orange in Barcelona, we were informed Orange France is different to Orange Spain, and our phone would need to be on roaming. To do this we would need to get France to do it. So again with language difficulties and frustration levels rising, we decided to wait until we are back in France and then hopefully it will work OK.
Darrel and Deirdre, however, purchasedTravel Simat the post office before they left Australia. They have had no problems with this, and they find it cost-effective in comparison with other systems. They got this information from the internet, and this indicated this is a cheap way to ring home when travelling.
Back to Barcelona, and so much to see and do here. We dashed off in different directions, with Trevor and I doing a lot of walking and catching the Underground, while Darrel and Deirdre favoured the tourist open top buses.
We both had compiled a list of musts, carefully researched before we left:
Montjuic Park and lookout
The Sagrada Familia cathedral
We queued for 40 minutes to get in but it was so worth it – a visit inside is not be be missed.
We caught the Underground and walked, but the walk is steep some of the way, even though there is a series of escalators to assist uphill – this is a fun place covering a huge area, with Gaudi works everywhere, abundant displays of wisterias, irises and blossoming trees, buskers playing good music, all adding to the ambiance.
The Picasso Museum
It has over 3,500 pieces of Picasso’s more traditional works from an early age through to his more well known Cubist masterpieces.
Museu Nacional d’art de Catalunya
We particularly enjoyed the Renaissance, Baroque, Modern and Contemporary art displays. It is magic just wandering down La Rambla, through the Born region, Barceloneta (the beach area), etc. Narrow crowded streets, wide boulevards, a place to totally lose yourself in and just soak up the atmosphere. All the guides provide good information re: Barcelona.
Trevor had long expressed a wish to buy a leather coat in Barcelona, and we carefully researched this on the net prior to leaving Australia. We raced around a range of leather shops from basic outlet retailers to high end. We chose to buy atMundypiel, Via Laietana, 67, for its quality products and good prices. I ended up buying a jacket as well, plus gloves, and Deirdre splashed out on a beautiful leather bag and two wallets.
There are so many places to dine out in Barcelona that choice is difficult. Trevor and I suffered from a nasty stomach bug while here, as we always seem to sustain in travelling, and so our personal food intake declined hugely. (We hope this episode of illness gives us immunity for the rest of our travels.) Darrel and Deirdre ate out on the top floor of the Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya, praising the extensive views of the city and beautifully cooked and presented food. To pre-book a window seat would have been good, they said.
As our appetites returned, we all dined atAgua, Barceloneta, in a restaurant recommended by Trip Advisor (a good source of locating travel information). We ate delicious prawns, calamari and crayfish while looking out at the waves rolling up the beach and young people playing a complicated beach volleyball/football game on the sands in front of us. For about €90 per couple for three courses, plus cocktails and wine, and taking into account the high quality of the food, this was good compared with what we would pay at home. We drank an excellent local wine, and it was surprising that this cost just €15, an average price on the wine list for this restaurant.
Check back next week for Trevor and Paulene’s next blog