ABC holidays

We are not intending our tour to be an “oh no, not Another Bloody Castle holiday”.

Castells on the other hand look like a mad idea which would be great to see.

Originally from Catalonia. Castells were first documented as a cultural form in Tarragona in 1801.  Competitions are held where a number of teams compete to build human towers of up to nine or even ten levels of people each standing on each other’s shoulders.

In Tarragona, the old bullring is used to hold Castell competitions

So we are in Tarragona, the plan was to use the motorways to bypass Barcelona and to make a bit of progress southward. Barcelona is a great city with some brilliant sights to see. But having already been there we didn’t fancy trying to negotiate our way through it, or stay in such a busy city in the van.

Cathedral in the background

The weather is warming nicely – it must be for me to get my legs out. Mind you all the locals were walking around in furry collared jackets and scarfs!

These walls had some big guns

After we gave half of our daily budget to the woman in the tourist kiosk. We were were given passes to visit some of the historical sights and walk the city walls which gave some great views of the city including views of the Cathedral.

When researching building methods for our house. I was quite taken by Thin Joint Masonry. This building method uses lightweight blocks to quickly create the walls of the building.

I therefore couldn’t help but notice the not so lightweight blocks the Romans in 200BC had used to construct these huge walls. I mean how the hell did they get these massive boulders to the site (Travis Perkins certainly wouldn’t have delivered) and how on earth did they lift them into position….. thinking about how all this was achieved is just amazing!!

In 200AD the Romans used the natural shape of the underlying bedrock to construct this Amphitheatre. The location they choose also exploits the views out to the Mediterranean Sea. In its day, it was the scene of fights between gladiators and against wild beasts, as well as public executions.

I guess if you’re going to get the thumbs down would you care about the view?

Thumbs up & thumbs down might mean the opposite of what many think

Charlie parked up in prime position at La Playa del Miracle, close to the town and beach, although the view of the shipyard reminded me of Vickers in Barrow.

Amphitheatre – Buildings – Castells . . . Job done

Toodle Pip, D&L

PS – Thank you for your comments, the feedback is much appreciated

Trip, the light’s fantastic

I think it’s very bizarre that the temperature in some parts of the UK today are higher than here in the Costa Brava. However, temperature is not the whole weather picture. Here what you begin to notice is the light. The big blue, clear and near cloudless skies really do help to make Mediterranean light very special.

Our lunch spot in Saint Feliu de Guixols

We’re big fans of the green edges on some of the roads on our maps. These denote the scenic routes. So we’re getting up early today to avoid most of the traffic on the dangerous? coast road between Saint Feliu de Guixols and Tossa de Mar. A (green edged) road which according to our Dutch next door neighbours might not be a good idea in a motorhome with uncertain brakes. – No they’re still not fixed.

Anyway, they needn’t have worried. Yes, it’s a twisty coastal road along the cliffs with incredible views. But I don’t agree with the suggestion that it’s dangerous or as I have seen quoted “one of the best coastal drives in the world”. However the route did offer nice views of the sea, beaches, forests and cliffs.

Approaching Tossa

Tossa de Mar’s busy tourist information was very helpful and gave us a map and tips of how to find our way round the old town that’s nestled at the foot of a verdant hillside around a beautiful sandy beach and the famous Villa Vela castle looking out to sea.

A quaint back street in the once thriving fishing village

The medieval town is a delightful place to stroll, catching glimpses of the sea and beach in between the centuries-old buildings as you go.

The views out to the Mediterranean and the beach from the castle’s turrets are enchanting.

I need to get something off my chest….. I’m struggling with the thought “we’re holidaying in the Costa Brava”. It doesn’t sit right with my snobbish prejudices about holidays in Spain***. ‘The Costa Brava’ – The coast synonymous with package holidays for British tourists since the mid-1950s. Famous for sunburned Brits, all-day breakfasts and rowdy, drunken nightlife. BUT, the hang ups are being debunked. “I think Tossa de Mar is just great”. There, I’ve said it. Yep can’t believe myself?

*** Check out the Monty Python monologue – The Travel Agent if you want to know who I blame.

It might not be many more weeks before there’s more than these two on the beach!

I accept that in July and August it’s probably hard to reach the water’s edge without tripping over oily limbs. Outside high season, Tossa’s old town makes it still a charming place to visit, though many restaurants limit hours or close entirely.

Ava Gardener

The great and good of Hollywood have been inspired by the Costa Brava over the years. One of the most famous Hollywood actors to have called the Costa Brava home for a while was the very lovely Ava Gardener. You can still see a statue of Gardner overlooking the town.

Amongst the artists who fell in love with Tossa de Mar was the French artist Marc Chagall.

Chagall called the spot ‘blue paradise’ when he lived there temporarily in 1934. Inspired by the colours of Tossa de Mar’s blue sea and sky, Chagall produced many blue-hued works in his career.

Time to move on but before we go…

I always thought that I would get to a certain age and become mature, but I have and I haven’t. For example, conversations whilst driving and observing signs :

Advertising on a van said Ferreteria – Do you think this means a place to buy ferrets?

Seeing cakes called fartons and having to buy them cause it makes you snigger – actually they were rather nice and not at all smelly!

Seeing a sign that read ‘One Stop Fuchs’ – nuff said!! Actually I googled it and the first line was, and I quote “Fuchs stands for performance”

Toodle Pip

D&L

M-m-m-my Girona

One of our catchy driving singalongs for the past wee while has been “My Girona” which as knowledgeable musical minded amongst you will know was that famous 1979 hit by the much forgotten ‘The Knack’. Except it wasn’t, well it was, but it was ‘My Sharona…!

Ok, moving quickly on

The brightly painted façades of the houses overlooking the river Onyar
Charlie the Motorhome is in a gated compound near the centre of Girona

We’re parked next to our first GB van we’ve seen since Vaujany. So I was keen to have a good old British moan about the weather or even better still a whinge about ‘Brexit’? or so I thought …… “Nay lad, said the one of the vans pair of Yorkshire occupant’s let’s talk bikes and everything cycling, “Do you know we did 72.73562 miles today and beat a bunch of juniors out training”. And did you know Lance Armstrong used to live in Girona and….

Excuse me, I think the kettle’s boiling!

Devesa Park with its tightly packed forest of trees

Our parking spot is close to La Devesa a large urban park covering over 40 hectares and the largest urban park in Catalonia. With more than 2,500, one hundred year old plane trees. We were also lucky enough to be billeted only 5 mins from a Basque style Tapas or Pintxos restaurant called Txalaka.

Txaalaka very moreish Pintxos

Whilst queuing to get in we got talking to an English couple Nick and Nicky who live and work in Sitges and agreed to share a table. The food was great and very reasonable at €35 for two including beers and a tip. We had a great evening and had a lot in common and cycling wasn’t mentioned once!

Girona’s 9th century city walls

There’s a large section of the city walls above the old medieval city that remains largely intact or repaired that provide an easy walking route to gain some excellent views across the city.

Girona’s old city is a maze of cobbled streets, squares and steep alleyways.
Pont de les Peixateries Velles Translated from Catalan means – The Old Fish Shop bridge

The bridges that span the river provide good views of the brightly coloured backs of the riverside buildings. The red iron bridge Pont de les Peixateries Velles was made by the same company that made the Eiffel Tower. As a prime tourist destination, it also makes an ideal location for supporters of Catalan independence to spread their message.

I think that might be Tejay Van Gardeeren on the right

Girona is known (in Yorkshire) for being one of the cities where the most professional cyclists live. From Millar to Gesink, as well as the Yates brothers and Van Garderen… More than 80 professional cyclists have made this city a home for themselves and their bikes. [I guess if you’re going to get run over in the street it might as well be by someone famous].

The food was quite different but really yummy

“La Fábrica” —the Mecca for all cyclists who visit Girona. Cyclist do have to be careful not to slip as they walk down the metal stairs, whilst wearing their clip-in cycling shoes with the metal cleat on the bottom, otherwise they might just end up on theirs!

The food was quite different but really yummy
Anyone would think we’re on our holidays
Ice Cream Mecca

In my book no city tour would be complete without an Ice Cream.

If you type ice cream and Girona into Google, the name that come up on most sites is Rocambolesc. As suggested by none other than Whitehaven based food blogger ‘Cumbria Foodie’  “Rocambolesc , Girona …. “Could this be the world’s best ice cream shop?”.

My choice was a HOT round 4″ pancake disc full of coffee ice cream, almonds and chocolate sprinkles. Lesley had a Banana cone with strawberries and two toppings. They offer completely bonkers selection of flavours – Parmesan ice cream anyone?

Mmmmmm, lick, slurp

Tavertet Ferrats

If you’ve been there or seen pictures of the Grand Canyon, Tavertet is like Arizona’s smaller cousin.

The small town of Tavertet is located above some cliffs, 900m above sea level in an isolated spot some 12 km’s up a very windy dead-end road. The smartly presented village is uniform in appearance, but the wide orderly well-kept streets suggest the place is newer than the soft coloured stonework suggests.

The girl in green was hanging on for grim death!

Shortly after starting the walk, we heard a shriek and went to investigate. Unbelievably we came across a bunch of young daring do’s practicing type-rope walking across a 900m drop!

The area is known as Collsacabra cliffs. Below the cliffs is Pantà de Sau, a reservoir that dammed the waters of the river Ter in the 1960s.

As we near the edge we saw lots of birds of prey, which were either eagles, peregrine falcons or griffon vultures, or not!. At one point we counted twelve ? soaring and gliding on the thermals near the cliffs.

Believe it or not there are 2 people on the edge of the bottom cliff – shows the scale!
Tonight’s view through Charlie’s windscreen

Having enjoyed another another good walk we decided to treat ourselves to a meal out on the town. In high season there are a number of eateries to choose from. In early February our choice in the deserted village, was only one!

Given we’re in Catalonia, the menu was a challenge….. Having stated that I would be up for some ‘Local’ possibly non-veggie specialities, we pointed at the menu and waited expectantly to see what might arrive? We needn’t have got so excited. Lesley had goat, sorry a goat’s cheese salad, followed by fish. My starter was butternut squash soup (very vegetarian) and my adventurous ‘Ous Ferrats’, when it arrived was a very British looking Fried Egg and Chips. “Got any ketchup”?

Toodle Pip, Chin chin

D&L

WWW.

We have Tim Berners-Lee to thank for today’s Waste Water Walk….!

We wouldn’t have found the 7 Gorgs (seven waterfalls) route, if we had not discovered Culture Trip website whilst researching walks in Catalonia.

 “Catalunya is home to one of the most visited cities in the world, however, many miss out on the spectacular natural wonders the rest of the region has to offer. With several national parks, cascading waterfalls and nature trails, Catalunya boasts some of the most stunning scenery around!” – ref Culture Trip

I’m not sure how good your Catalan geography is? Before today ours was pretty poor, but the walk we found near Campdevanol close to Ripoll is in an area a bit like a mini Switzerland complete with cows with bells…! We loved it and certainly plan to come back.

With an absence of signs, finding the start this walk was an act of faith. We drove Charlie along a dusty track, past the grazing cows and up into a wooded area in the hope of finding somewhere to park. I think we were expecting a car park! We saw a sign to Gorge de la Cabana. So now if we can find a place to turnaround we’ll be fine…..! but with no place to turn a 7m motorhome around we continued up the narrow track which by now was an even narrowerer concrete roadway until eventually that ended abruptly….. too abruptly. The step off the concrete grounded Charlie’s Waste Water pipe and snapped it off. Oh SH1T.

The only option now was to reverse down the track to a spot that was wide enough to turnaround. To say this was tricky was a bit of an understatement as the concrete roadway had a very sharp edge (we’d already done enough damage to the underside) and there was an electric fence protecting the edge that we’d need to hang the back-end of the Motorhome over. Anyway after carefully taking off the electrified wire we cautiously angled Charlie off the roadway and hung his backside over the fenced off bit and after a couple of shunts we were facing the way we came. Whew!

After the stress of finding the start the route finding was well signposted with yellow way marks painted on the trees. – Well we are in Catalonia!

Sparkly if not spectacular

The images on the web suggested the falls were quite dramatic (we suspect they were taken after particularly heavy rains) as the cascades were altogether gentler during our visit.

maybe not Birds-of-Paradise – but birds in paradise?

Once more with no one else around we just had these ducks for company.

Yes that is ICE

The route was about 8km-long and took us about three hours to scramble around the sometimes-steep sided valley, through bushes on the muddy well signposted paths.

Eventually we finished at seventh and the biggest waterfall at the Gorge del Colomer, which you can understand why on a summer’s day when the water is a tad! warmer is full of paddlers and swimmers.

Ok, let’s end today’s blog with a few numbers:

We’ve been away for 41 days. We’ve driven 2,432 miles. Our lowest daily spend is €5.67, the highest is a lot more……. The daytime temperature is a very pleasant 17 degrees. And we’ve done three lots of laundry.

Besalû

One of our favourite towns so far, Besalû’s iconic bridge set the tone for the tour around the maze of its medieval cobbled streets. Like much of this region the place is steeped in history of the conflicts that have played out here.

Today Besalû is a magnet for tourists like us and I image the restaurants and bars in the square and side alleys being full in the height of summer. Lucky for us, our out of season visit enable us to see a more tranquil side of this beautiful place. Although, sadly Trip Advisor’s number one eatery recommendation was….. shut.

In low season when this place is closed up the restaurants have some very strange places to store their furniture! However in summer I bet you get some great views….

Modesty prevents me from admitting my photographic genius for this shot was inspired by Dali’s Swan’s reflecting Elephants!

SERIOUS BIT WARNING

As we drove through Catalonia everywhere there were Catalonia flags and also hundreds, no thousands of yellow ribbons symbolising independence. Tied to railings, painted on roads, on walls… yellow ribbons, tied to anything and everything.

While walking around Besalû, Lesley was intrigued by a poster she saw in a window. “Freedom Jordis – political prisoners of the Spanish state”.

This is not about a couple of rowdy Newcastle United fans getting banged up for drunk and disorderly but a serious issue of Catalonian nationalists being imprisoned for promoting self-determination.

The Catalan independence vote in 2017 saw a result of 90% voting for independence in a referendum that had 42% turnout – restricted by intimidation and repression by the Spanish police. The referendum was said by Spain to be illegal and many of the Catalan government were put in prison. Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart who were part of a protest against the Spanish suppression prior to the referendum were also jailed.


The strikes in Spain today are in part protesting about releasing these political prisoners.

For us the strike meant the main route from Besalû to Girona was blockaded and the tourist office in Besalû where you buy tokens for fresh water was closed. So based on a vague piece of advice we went off on a wild goose chase via the back roads in search of some urgently needed free, fresh water for Charlie.

Wot no water – Charlie the motorhome and his dishy Spanish night time friend, whose occupants gave us the dubious advice of where to find water when this service point was out of order.

Lesley – Only another five of those 20ltr containers to carry up the hill and we’ll be full….

The mysterious aire with free water in Sant Joan les Font never was found but, a quiet spot near a school with water collected from a tap nearby was a reasonable substitute. And joy of joy, we’re kept company for most the night by the Monastery bell….. 1/4 past, 1/2 past, 1/4 to “BONG”.

Pip, PIp Toodle Oo

D&L

It’s a Mad world

You know the world’s gone mad when you start your day being overtaken by a boat..

Traffic jams in Empuriabrava aren’t confined to the waterways!

Before going to Figueres we thought we make a short detour round the bay of Roses and to see Empuriabrava.

Another place I’m pleased we visited out of season

Empuriabrava is an altogether mad place, originally built on a swamp, it was transformed into a massive tourist complex of villas and 5,000 private moorings, which front onto a network of some 24 km of navigable waterways. It must have cost the earth to create. It’s got a population of about 8,000 in winter, but rises to 80,000 in the heat of summer and is the largest residential marina in Europe.

In Figueres we planned to visit the Dalí Museum, which is the birthplace of Salvador Dalí, the prominent Spanish surrealist, best known for his striking and bizarre images. Designed by Dalí himself on the ruins of the old municipal theatre, the museum plunges you into the painter’s mind thanks to his most complete collection, on a journey through the strangest artefacts you can imagine.

Dalí was highly imaginative, and also enjoyed indulging in unusual and grandiose behaviour. His eccentric manner and attention-grabbing public actions sometimes drew more attention than his artwork.”

Nevertheless, it’s an impressive collection, and defies the standard ‘canvas on a wall’ approach. In the strange outside/inside main entrance is an old Cadillac (reported to be owned by Al Capone and used by Dali to take his dead wife for a last drive).

Unsurprisingly, the whole place is surreal. However, some of his best known pieces were not inside, the one with the melting clock faces and swans reflecting elephants.

Nor an old favourite of mine the Metamorphosis of Narcissus but that’s in Tate Britain.

The people give some idea of the scale

The sheer volume of work was amazing too, he must have worked non-stop to churn it all out.

This is just part of a painted ceiling

But after an hour or two of browsing I left thinking yes, he was undoubtedly very, very talented, he was definitely MAD. But overall I felt a slightly underwhelmed and not as wow’d as I expected.

Lesley looking happy that it’s time for a cuppa!
Charlie parked up with 10 friends

We parked Charlie at a free spot in supermarket carpark with 10 other motorhomes, who were all happy campers, until some yobbos came around at midnight to generously share a few of their favourite Gangster Rap tunes. Turned up to max volume their boot mounted sub woofers belted out rubbish that certainly wouldn’t make the Eurovision Song Contest. Fortunately it didn’t last long as they disappeared smartish before the local rozzers came by to see what all the racket was.