S: A Trip To Spain--Sept. 2008
FC: A Trip to Spain September 2008 | Personal Journals and Photos from Hans Hlawaty
1: For Momheart, my favorite travel companion
3: perfectly located for exploration. We met with Larry and had a dinner of tapas at a cheap bar across the street. It wasn’t particularly good but it was fun to be in Spain with two weeks before me. Our room was in a very old (17th/18th Cent.) building, renovated with a spare modern interior. I slept on a cot at the foot of Jay and my mom’s bed. From our window you could look out on a plaza in front of the museum. Before bed I felt reinvigorated to get out into the city for a brief stroll. The excitement of a new place to explore was stronger than fatigue. I wandered a bit through the Gothic Quarter. Having no map and no mental image of the city I was leery | Monday 9/8/2008 I arrived at Charles De Gaulle in Paris, transferred to another plane, and landed in Barcelona around 2300. The ten hour flight from LAX was relatively painless due to a precise mixture of wine, hydrocodone, and fatigue. I was asleep before take off and awake only for meals. I was not comfortable, but it had little effect on my torpor. Air France served a pretty extensive and tasty meal of beef stew, bread, camembert, cake, and ample libations. Breakfast too. A far cry from a domestic carrier. Our hotel was in the Gothic Quarter on Via Laietana, across the street from the History Museum. It was
4: by soft pink lantern light. Closed shops predominated on the ground floor, with narrow and tall wooden doors—ornate but weathered—giving admittance to a cramped stairwell. At that hour it was quite empty in the streets, giving ample room to fantasize. How easy to imagine I was a rogue wandering the shadows of an 18th Century European burg. Easy to picture the lamplight as coming from a flame. The buildings exuded an exotic mystery that is very foreign and appealing to a native of the west coast. How fun it would be to see the inside of a | to stray too far from the hotel. Sooner or later I would cross a mental boundary and feel uneasy about my exact location. I’d usually make three right or left turns to try and recapture my known route. It was more fun than backtracking. It kept the walk exciting. One of my life's great thrills is exploring a new place. Every road is an unknown, around every bend a sight unseen. The Gothic Quarter at 2am was a sumptuous feast in that regard. Rarely any lane ran parallel to another. Most would not admit a car. Five or four stories was the | typical building height. Each building with three or so banks of tall segmented windows per floor, opening to a tiny balcony. Most of them had an appealing patina of age—not quite disrepair but, worn. Everything was quite dimly lit
5: but it was largely and pleasantly devoid of the usual cheap and ubiquitous souvenirs. Some notable sights were section full of small bird vendors, and a bustling open air market of produce, bread, and charcuteries. The piles of fruit were so vibrant, and the rows of hanging cured hams, stacks and bundles of sausage, and displays of cheese appealed to me. Exotic, and yet symmetrical with their own logic. It was chaotic and mathematical at the same time and I wanted to soak it up. We stopped at the hotel at which Larry had | dwelling, to know the rhythm and nuances of living in Barcelona. I wandered for an hour or so, delighted, and then fell into my springy cot and slept reasonably well. Tuesday 9/9/08 We slept in until 10:20, so I was up and out in five minutes, piling grub on my plate from the hotel buffet. It was an incredibly well-stocked table and I ate an obscene amount. This proved a good idea, as lunch was not included in the room as we had been led to believe. Jay elected to relax at the rooftop pool, so Larry, Mom, and I struck out on foot. We walked west to La Rambla, the main pedestrian street. It was a broad walkway with a narrow car lane on each side, flanked by tall 19th Century apartment buildings. Most of the street was shaded by a beautiful canopy of sycamore. This was clearly a tourist haunt based on the large volume of strolling groups,
6: exposure to him and I was pleasantly surprised—I assumed Moderniste to be all steel and concrete, but this was quite ornamental and whimsical. Further south we came to the water front, the street terminating at a column capped by a Columbus statue. It was lunch time, so we wandered the pier a bit looking for a special place. None materialized, so we made our way back to the hotel. We ended up finding a little courtyard bar to enjoy some tapas. I was oddly hungry and queasy. So it had been | been staying prior to our arrival and they had a nice big city map on the wall. This helped to orient me greatly. We absently wandered into the Placa del Rey, which exuded antiquity. Elegantly adorned but well-worn apartments surrounding a cobbled square and fountain. I could picture horse drawn coaches circling the fountain, or a parade of royal troops. I’m still not sure the history of the place, but though it was small it seemed meaningful. Some of the apartments were being renovated and I thought this might afford me a chance to slip inside and take a peek. No such luck. Being with Mom and Larry took a little daring out of my usual mode. I would have liked to give it a solid try. Not being from some line of old money, I’m sure I’ll never know—but it sure would be great to up and rent a little apartment overlooking some European cobbled square. We headed south on La Rambla, stopping to take in a mansion designed by Gaudi—his first. It was my first
7: sun to enjoy. The view from the roof was great—it looked down on the myriad maze-like roads and ramshackle roofs of the Gothic Quarter. Every rooftop dwelling seemed to be a shade of different color, size, and height as its neighbor, which created an artful cubist effect. The sun was low in the horizon, which made it even more striking. For dinner Larry had selected what was to become the first of many highly regarded, but generally unmemorable, eateries. I had a seared tuna steak, which was delicious. I skipped a cab ride back in favor of a one/two mile stroll down Gracia, another main drag. Several of Gaudi’s buildings were on the way. Organic, undulating, covered with mosaics and capricious designs and sculptures and wrought iron. I kinda like them. | since my arrival. I suppose it just took a day or two to adjust. I ordered Gazpacho on a lark, having never really enjoyed it, and found it to be quite refreshing and delicious. Our final stop was the Cathedral de Ste Maria del Mar. Erected through patronage of sailors to rival the cathedral near our hotel. It was utterly beautiful and ornate inside—probably the first Roman Catholic cathedral I’ve been in. A three year old boy couldn’t resist from chirping and beeping in order to hear the incredible reverberations. His dad had to wheel him out. Back at the hotel Mom and I hopped in the pool, but it was really too cold of water and too little
8: captivating was the glow from the girl’s garland halo. There seemed to be some negative corona of darkness due to the luminescence of the girl. It was really breathtaking, and I had to look at it from several angles to be sure it wasn’t some trick of the lighting. It helped a lot in appreciating his artwork to see the progression from a young man in Barcelona, Paris, the blue period, pink, and so on. They lost me on the way to Cubism though. I needed my hand held a little longer to fully embrace it. I’m | Wednesday 9/10/08 A very slow start to this day. Groggy, unenthused, and still a bit queasy. Mom and I walked back to the bustling market and bought a few slices of sharp cheese, some crusty bread, and a bowl of fruit. We sat in a small square drinking espresso and consuming our satisfying feast. It was so enjoyable wandering the market to find just the right thing and then attempting to communicate with the shop owner. I found the whole experience, and subsequent meal, far more satisfying (at 8 euro) than the prior dinner (for 40 euro). We met Larry at the Picasso Museum. Housed in some very fine apartment of old, its creation was supervised by the artist. It traced his art, beginning with small things done in his youth, through cubist studies on old master pieces. It also included some linoleum block art and sculpture. One of his first critical successes, “First Communion,” was absolutely stunning. Particularly
9: through the kitchen, past bubbling cauldrons and open flames, to reach our table in the back, The atmosphere was unbeatable and the food was very tasty. I had a Catalan fish platter. | almost there, but I don’t quite get it yet. I really enjoyed seeing a museum dedicated to one artist. How incredible it must have been to live in Paris or Barcelona, painting something new each day, or the same thing over and over again until it is mastered. What a glorious way to live. Even more glorious back then. Back at the hotel Jim and Susan Kelley were awaiting us. Jim walked us to his favorite restaurant, located just off La Rambla. It was about 80 years old, saturated in history. It felt like it was built from an old castle kitchen, partially dug into the ground with an old well exposed in an alcove. We had to walk
10: yet completely fanciful. It was as though some powerful wizard had reshaped the earth with a mighty spell. The ride back was so pleasant and easy. We were hot and tired from the ride up, and from tooling around the park in the hot sun, but now it was all downhill. We stopped at a small bar for an absolutely refreshing beer and a grilled fish. It was the perfect meal. Continuing on we stopped at the Sagrada Familia Cathedral—Gaudi’s masterpiece. I am at a bit of a loss to describe it. Surreal, playful, | Thursday 9/11/2008 This was to be the most full day yet. Mom and I set out early, stopping for a quick little breakfast and espresso in a long narrow café. We hoped to repeat the market experience but it was closed for a Catalonian holiday. We rented a couple of cruiser bikes and peddled up to Parc Guell. It was several miles north of the old quarter, and actually quite a bit higher too. It was intended as a planned garden community, but lack of buyers doomed it. The city made it into a park, and it displayed many fanciful Gaudi constructions. Two little fairy tale houses marked the entrance, with spirally colorful towers and bright mosaics. An earthy, dribbling fountain flanked by broad stairs led up to a hall of pillars where someone was playing a very unusual electric stringed instrument. The whole park was populated by spiraling rock pillars, arches, aqueducts, and they all had a strange way of looking natural and organic,
12: blossoms, culminating in a colorful dome of stained glass. There wasn’t a flat or unadorned surface in the place, yet it never felt too busy or kitchy. The music was soothing and rich and I sat in total silence and comfort and happiness. After the event I wandered off east, and just happened upon the site of the gathering at the Arch. It seemed that 4 or 5,000 of Barcelona’s young folks were gathered on the mall to hear a live show. I wove through the crowd, where eclectic youths gathered in small groups of | reverent, organic. The interior like a sacred grove, a canopy of trees. The exterior some kind of colorful castle made by dribbling wet sand. It was truly moving, and even more so thanks to a thoughtful display linking Gaudi's inspirations to the many wonderous architectures of nature. The final sighting of the ride was a boisterous parade for Catalonian independence. Red and yellow mobs moving down the main drag; music, banners. A large crowd assembling near the Arch of Triumph. Yet another interesting spectacle. After returning the bike we learned that Larry had picked out another gourmet dinner spot, but I opted out. Instead I went to the Palau d’ Musica to watch a Spanish guitar master perform iconic solo works from across Spain. The concert hall was another playfully opulent Moderniste work, designed by a fellow named Montaner. I had a few snacks in the bottom floor bar, and a glass of wine, before taking my seat. The ceiling seemed to be a bed of rich
13: animated discussions, and black or Indian men roamed about with six-packs, selling cans for a euro. I found my way to the front of the stage to await the show. It was a lively act—precious little singing, headed by a soprano sax. Also trumpet, drums, congas, electric guitar. It was very gypsyish rock. Fun to bounce around too, though after a few melancholy numbers I began to lose steam. It was thrilling to be in a crowd of thousands of foreigners. To look out over a sea of happy faces, fireworks showering occasionally from | a renegade's hand, people sitting on shoulders, draped in the flag of Catalunya. Soon it was raining big fat warm drops of water, and lightning was crashing in the background. The crowd began to disperse, and I pressed myself up against a wall along with a hundred others, under an awning. Before long I decided it would be more satisfying to stroll in the rain, it being warm. I never got terribly wet because the rain let up shortly. I wandered for an hour most likely, trying to find just the perfect spot for dinner. I never fully succeeded, so I had a few tapas in a bar near our hotel. Not content to let my last night in Barcleona end, I bought a beer from a street vendor and drank it in a dead end courtyard. The night before I’d seen a large group of folks sitting on the stairs, enjoying the night like only Europeans can, and I marked it for a later visit. There were maybe 20 people this night, 10 of whom were at the top of the stairs in a recess playing guitar and singing loudly
14: it would always feel mysterious and unknown. In a way it was like being a child again—just letting the parents do all the planning and driving. It was by choice that I played so little part in the details of the trip for it afforded me a wonderful lack of concern or responsibility. And I had the best of both worlds for I could simply strike out on my own when the mood struck. The drive ended up being about 4 hours worth of incredibly windy beach cliff roads. It was beautiful, but eventually a bit nauseating. The Mediterranean is such a beautiful saturated blue. The hills were dense with pine, and we would occasionally pass | together. I drank my beer quietly, half longing to be part of the revelry, half enamored with the sights and sounds of it all. When the beer was done, and I’d heard a few good tunes, I retreated to the room and slept like a log. Friday 9/12/08 I worked on a puzzle in the lobby that morning while waiting for checkout, listening to the incessant beats and synth pads of the music all Europeans seem to crave in public spaces. Jim and Larry each rented a car and we were off to where, I knew not. I deliberately kept myself in the dark as to our game plan so
15: almost empty. There were three small restaurants, all closed, and some 100 year old painted and plastered structure that probably housed some beach rental stuff. It was closed with ancient doors and rusty pad locks and was quite quaint. We had dinner that night at the hotel bar on the deck overlooking the sea. The gibbous moon rose during our meal and reflected pure white shimmers. | little time-shares or villas tucked within the trees overlooking the water. At last we made it to the Parador in Aguiablava. It had a Kubrick feel to it, somehow reminiscent of the late 60s/early 70s, but not kitchy and still tasteful. Our room had a nice 4x10 balcony with a perfect unobstructed view of rugged rock cliffs covered in small firs. The rocky formations dropped jagged and steep into the sea where the waves knocked up foam with each crash. It was one of the most dramatic, possibly the best, hotel view ever! Well, Santorini | beat it for sure. Two fat sea gulls lived outside our balcony and made a fine feast of the next three day’s worth of breakfast. After settling in, mom and I walked down a little trail to the cove at the foot of the hotel. It was near dusk and the beach was
16: fall asleep was a treat, not the usual chore, thanks to such a serene setting. Jim’s former student Antonio planned a lunch for us at his farm nearby. However, I just wasn’t in the mood for any more driving so mom and I instead set off along the coast on foot. Starting at the hotel beach was small trail that led up onto the hills. It then proceeded to lead us through one picturesque setting after another. At first, a miniature sandy beach between two large rock outcroppings, then a winding little staircase along ancient looking stone beach villas. Past a quaint dock filled with colorful vessels, through a neighborhood overlooking the | Saturday 9/13/08 Breakfast was provided to the room, as it would be every morning at each Parador: coffee, croissants and pastries, bread, cheese, and ham. We ate on the balcony. I’d slept there the night before. It was perfectly large enough to lay out all the chair cushions in a row, then put a blanket on top to hold them together. It rained like the dickens through the night, but I was able to rig the patio chairs and cushions in such a way as to keep the patio dry. I slept very soundly between the patter of rain and the lapping of waves down below. My best night’s sleeps were had on the patio. Waiting to
17: sea. Every turn in the road revealed some charming sight; we really took our time. Eventually the stony path descended to a large sandy beach with a restaurant. We had a big bowl of tangy olives, two delicious salads, and some beer. The water was perfectly blue and clear and warm, and swimming was a delight. All along our route small motorboats could be seen anchored and drifting about. It was sunny and couldn’t have been more pleasant. Back at the hotel we dipped in the pool, but it was getting chilly as the sun got lower. I do believe I skipped | dinner that night, content to snack on the groceries Jay had purchased the day before. A ribbon of sugar ants appeared alongside my balcony pallet. One of them somehow bit me on the eyelid, but other than that we managed to leave each other alone.
18: fishing in a marsh. Walking back to the car alone was so peaceful and quiet. Nothing to betray that it wasn’t 500 years ago and I some wandering stranger. On the way back we stopped at a road side restaurant. Just in the nick of time, we persuaded them to let us eat. I ended up with fries and a frankfurter of some kind, of all things! The rest of the afternoon was spent reading and probably setting my fantasy football lineup. We visited the beachside restaurant for dinner, where fresh fish predominated on the menu. | Sunday 9/14/08 This day we drove north a bit to a marshy wildlife preserve area. The weather was fine, and it felt really wonderful to be out of a city or hotel and to have naught but sunshine and trees. I walked ahead of the group and enjoyed the time to myself. Being the end of summer here, there were few birds about. The highlight of the day was climbing an old silo made into a viewing tower. We were buzzed by a small group of herons who were beating into the wind. They gained altitude, after flying quite close, and hung in the air in front of the sun. I also observed, from a wooden stand, one
19: hillsides. Every so often we’d pass through a small town—just a collection of stone and mortar buildings built into the hillside. Martinet stood out as especially quaint. I would love to spend a week in one of those places, learning the history, the rhythms, the way life takes place. We stopped at a farm house restaurant and had the blue plate special as it were. The place has probably stood unchanged for 150 years. Half a barn stood off to the side, filled with the accumulated debris of decades. The rafters | Monday 9/15/08 Aguiablava was so idyllic it was hard to leave. We drove to Figueres to visit the Dali Museum, which was quite a sight. Again, supervised by the artist himself, it was housed in an old theater. It used to be a church too, and was the site of Dali’s baptism, as well as his first art show. A few of his more famous works were here on display, but the part I enjoyed most was an exhibit of another artist. Sadly I never got his name, but his work seemed to be exclusively crafted from images of piles or arrangements of lichen-covered rocks. Usually paintings indicating human forms, but unmistakably derived from intense study of rocks and lichen. It was great. I would have liked to stay longer than the hour we were there—there was so much to take in; very overwhelming. From there we drove to Huesca. Another winding road, this one ascending into the Pyrenees. It afforded beautiful views of pastoral farms terraced down the
20: east and illuminated a curious little chapel laying atop a distant hill to the south. Tuesday 9/16/2008 Another tasty Parador breakfast. We have more or less been sneaking me into each hotel, so I always have to scurry over to Larry’s each morning to get my breakfast. Mom and I elected not to spend the day in the car again (the others were going to visit Andorra). We obtained a map of a trail to the hilltop chapel and set out. Just outside our hotel was a farmers market. We spent a good hour just wandering through the narrow streets, slowly filling my pack with supplies: tomatoes, grapes, bread, cheese, sausage, | one foot thick beams of rough hewn hardwood. A small winding grapevine across the entrance. A small pen of ducks, geese , and swans. It was perhaps my favorite meal—so out of the way, locals only. A real gem. Our final stop was Seu d' Urgell, in a valley along a small river. The hotel had a fairly antiquated look to it from the outside, but was quite modern with in. A great open hall filled with little couches and seating areas, covered by a slanting skylight. It was a nice blend of old and modern. Also, no balcony for me to sleep on, but I could lie with my head near the French door that opened to a view of the mountains in the
21: almonds. Now we had a nice picnic. We crossed though the river park, where it appears a special waterway was crafted for the ’92 Olympic kayaking competition. Then we began to follow the map’s instruction along a gravel road that paralleled the river. Quite a change from our previous two locations, Seu d’Urgell was predominantly a farming town. The city center was cute--a mix of old Barcelona-style buildings and newer flats and condos—and still felt quite tiny. But we were now in farm land and it was beautiful. Mostly corn, apples and pears. We passed many orchards and sunlit rows of cornstalks. Here and there were stone and mortar huts. One was so tiny it could | only have been seasonal, or perhaps to use if you worked late in the field and needed a place to spend the night. It was incredibly still, sunny, and warm, and we walked along in reverie. Sadly, our map proved horribly inadequate. We soon lost the trail after it led us to what was clearly a gate and private property. We ended up taking several detours and storming through an open field of cut grass to regain what we thought was the road. Along the way mom picked an extra tart and juicy apple to quench our thirst—we'd opted not to take any water along. A remarkable thing about this area, and Spain in general, is the lack of
22: was overwhelming; we turned and reluctantly backtracked. Eventually we caught up with a single track through the forest—mostly scrub oak and some small fir. The whole forest was teeming with insects. Since they weren’t pestering us, I quite enjoyed seeing grasshoppers scattering here and there as I walked. In every direction I could see some little thing moving. After such a long (3 hours?) quest to reach the chapel, I suppose it was a little underwhelming. Sadly it was all locked up so we could only peer inside. It was probably only 20x30 feet, and it had a vague Gaudiesque spire. We sat in what little shade it afforded and ate out picnic. | fences and of power lines. Again, it helps greatly in my voracious imagining of times of yore. We followed the road up towards the back of the chapel but it sadly would prove to be a dead end too. Fresh cow dung became a common sight and before long we were at some old dairy up in the hills. Three dogs came tearing down the road to intercept us but we stood calmly and they seemed to sense no immediate threat. One was white and plump and freshly shorn so that she looked like a little ewe. She appreciated a good scratch behind the ears; the other two were a bit leery. All were filthy and lame in one of their feet. The buzzing of flies
23: With only grapes and tomatoes to provide moisture, we were eager to find water. There was a little hamlet to be seen in the south, called Cerc if the map was correct. It only took 20 minutes to reach it. It was absolutely dead, save a small bit of construction on an ancient stone dwelling. Once again, the town felt unchanged in 300 years and offered only questions as to the lives of its inhabitants and course of its history. It was interesting to peer into the construction site and see the manner in which the old foundation and exterior walls are preserved while a new interior is created. Only one of the buildings in town seemed | to be new and modern, though it still kept a healthy dose of archaic charm and styling. In retrospect I regret not spending more time poking around, however I’d spent so much mental energy trying to decipher that crummy map that I was a bit out of curiosity. We did find a public well that produced the sweetest, most quenching water and we both relished it. From Cerc we could return easily to Seu d’Urgell along a paved mountain road. We scarcely saw five cars on the whole walk back. The hotel pool was heated and indoors and thus not very pleasant, but it felt good to be buoyant. I went out on the deck and gratefully
24: received the last few rays of sunlight to dry myself off. Jay and Mom and I had a simple dinner of salad at a sidewalk café. I then wandered about a bit, stopping for a wine and to watch Barcelona’s soccer team defeat one from Portugal.
25: Wednesday, 9/7/2008 We continued on through the Pyrenees heading northwest this day. I napped in the car, to wake up in a moderately-sized city called Huesca. We were stopping for lunch at the request of Larry, in search of another Michelin-starred restaurant. It proved rather tricky to find. Jay drove the lead car, under Larry’s direction, in laps around downtown while we faithfully followed with Jim and Susan. After three laps, we parked and struck out on foot. Jim took the | lead, using the Michelin Guide, and we rambled for 45 minutes in a winding pattern searching for the fabled restaurant. Every so often he would ask directions, but they never seemed to yield a clearer path. Jay was reaching his physical limit, and Mom and Susan their emotional one, when we finally arrived at the Torres restaurant. It was a thoroughly unspectacular facade, but seemed elegant within. I couldn’t bring myself to spend another $75 on a fancy lunch so I took the opportunity to explore the town for an hour. It had a great park full of tall stands of sycamore. There were several mosaic fountains and some playful topiary and a few statues. School had just gotten out so there were groups of teens with backpacks clustered, or wandering here and there. There was an unfortunate amount of graffiti sullying an otherwise pleasant public space.
26: old wooden chairs for observers. It was easy to imagine all the nights spent in a smoke-filled, noisy room, chips clinking, social elites engaging in their high-minded debates. It seemed like the perfect setting for two enemy spies to have a showdown, or perhaps exchange documents—even more so due to the emptiness. The south salon had a giant plat panel TV and rows of leather armchairs and couches. Two or three ancient old men sat dozing. A small room off to the side contained a library. Old wooden bookshelves reached to the ceiling, on which were neatly stacked rows of matching encyclopedia sets and other scholarly material. Several old chaps were perusing the day's news and I | The best part of town was the “Circulo Oscence,” an 1877 Moderniste social club that was beautifully maintained. It stood opposite the town square. The first floor held two small bars/restaurants. I climbed the stairs to floor two to discover an opulent lobby, private bar, and reception area. There was an ornate chandelier and Neo-Classical murals on the walls. There were two large salons to the north and south. The north contained numerous rows of card tables; they looked to be at least 50 years old, with faded green felt and aged wood trim. The place was totally empty which gave it a mysterious and intriguing air. At the end of the salon was a small private room occupying a corner tower. A large card table was ringed by
27: was setting low, thus casting sharp shadows to define every contour of the rock, and deepening its orange hue. As we traveled further up the gorge we could see it more from the side. An interpretive sign illustrated the forces at work: you could see the massive strata, as revealed by the gorge, pushing up against this massive wall of stone and being forced skyward is a slow-motion curl. It was truly one of the most stunning sights of nature I've seen. | contemplated staying to do a crossword, but since this seemed to be a members only establishment, I felt my presence was merely being tolerated for the moment. I regretted not having my camera, but the light was most likely too low for 200 speed film anyways. I stopped for a beer before returning to Torres. The meal was by all accounts excellent. I led the group back to the car and we proceeded north to our next destination. Along the route we happened upon a most spectacular geographic wonder. Set alongside a river canyon, amongst the rolling farm-dotted hills and small hamlets, a giant rock obelisk thrust up from the earth. A massive orange, cigar-shaped monolith rose vertically against the river gorge. The gorge cupped away from it in a horse shoe off to its right, creating a tall, craggy wall. It made an amphitheater with a narrow opening facing us across the river—the monolith on the left and the wall looping back and around to the right. We happened upon it as the sun
28: We carried on, listening to the Mamas and the Papas’ greatest hits, until we arrived in Sos del Rey Catholico as the sun set. The town was started in the 13th Century, atop a butte overlooking 360 degrees of farm land. A two lane road wound along the slope up to the Parador—the first building on | the north end of town. Jim drove the lead car up to the front, and then further on, searching for parking or a place to unload. We were quickly past the hotel and I suppose he figured we might as well press onward and enjoy a brief auto tour of the town. We barely made it 100 yards before the alleyway became so narrow that it was impassable. I guess we missed the “do no enter” sign. I think Jim has the admirable and familiar philosophy that it's better to press on in a pinch than backtrack. A keen internal compass and common sense will usually bring one to their intended destinations, along with perhaps an adventure to recount. In this case, backtracking was the only feasible option, and in reverse sadly. It was so nerve wracking to sit in the rental car, six inches away from major body damage, that I elected to exit and watch from a safe distance. It proved to be useful as Jay had a very poor feel for the maneuvering of his car and it took a while to extract ourselves from the dilemma. I tried to guide the cars down while a local grandma peered from her window and wagged a finger at me. One we were back at the Parador, I could appreciate how the building was seemingly carved into the side of the butte. Chiseled rock walls encompassed it on three sides and it was easy to imagine the rocks being quarried and excavated from the hillside and then erected into a foundation in the open space, newly created. I believe,
29: my lucky position—free of responsibility for any logistics of our trip. Eventually all was resolved and we were checked into our rooms. Mom and I wasted little time before we were out exploring in the remaining dusky light. The town was a maze of narrow lanes, maybe 12 feet across at the widest point; many were quite steep, as all the paths eventually made their way up to the keep and church on the summit. With many buildings dating from the 17th-19th Centuries, this was truly a perfect place to indulge in the fantasy of being a Medieval rogue. At any moment, I expected to round a corner and see a torch-lit tavern full of cloaked men and busty servant girls, where I might order a tankard and a crust of bread for a few crowns. The alleyways grew dark and we saw few to no other pedestrians. The buildings seemed to be exclusively dwellings of stone and mortar. They all had four to five foot tall doors on the ground floor, and two or three small balconies per level. Some were obviously modernized. Some so ancient that grown tress had sprouted from within their ruins. It begged the question: what did people do here? Where did one buy groceries? Every so often we'd pass a open balcony, from which the sound of sizzling oil or scent of frying chicken would emanate, It made us long for that mythical tavern even more! We worked our way up to the church, passing under a long dark tunnel with gated portals along one side. On the far end of the tunnel lay the courtyard of the church and its entrance, adorned with 17th Century stone carvings of saints and knights and angels. Above the church rose a tall | however, that this Parador was a modern creation artfully blended into the ancient town. The builder did a great job of retaining the Medieval feel and I loved walking on the carved stone blocks that made up the floor. For some reason our reservation was compromised, so I wandered outside to let the grownups sort it out. 50 yards from the Parador was a stone bench on the edge of the butte, affording me a view of the western valleys. The sun was just dipping behind a mountain and all was smoky and golden. Nearby a group of retirees sat around on other benches or lawn chairs, observing the only road into town. I enjoyed the quite view and appreciated
30: Behind me was an aged wooden door to someone's tiny home, light and sound spilling from the gaps of the frame. They were listening to Led Zeppelin, of all things. I wanted to knock so badly, and invite myself in. Ask about the history of their home, the town. What they did for a living, for fun, where they shopped, what life was like in such a foreign and fantastic place. We wound our way back to the Parador and joined the rest of our party for dinner at the hotel restaurant. | rectangular bell tower which chimed occasionally. We meandered back down a different way, enjoying the feeling of being completely lost. There was no way to truly be lost, because the town was so small and perched on a steep peak, but wandering around never knowing what the next bend would bring is a delicious feeling. One moment that particularly stands out is finding ourselves at a dead end on the opposite side of the church. In front of us loomed the walls of this massive and ancient building. Dozens of pigeons roosted in this tucked away nook and they were stirring about in the gloaming, making their characteristic coos and flapping of wings. | Thursday 9/18/2008 I chose to sleep in the hallway leading from the front door to the bedroom—I could shut both doors and be afforded some measure of quiet. Upon rising we scarfed down the standard Parador breakfast. Larry brought over my portion; the last two nights I had to slink down the hallway and fetch my breakfast before house keeping caught on to my presence. We now had an hour or two to get in any daylight exploration before we left town. Sos del Rey Catolico might have been my favorite spot on the trip; too bad we spent
31: the least amount of time there. There was pretty much nothing to do, but just the act of being there was satisfying enough. The church was now open for tourists, so we went inside. It was perfectly quiet and serene, and the slightest noise reverberated throughout the massive vaulted ceiling. There was the typical collection of paintings and sculptures, and possibly some relics. An ancient looking pipe organ stood in one of the transepts, and an ornate wooden altar in the other. For one Euro we could descend into the crypt. The staircase was narrow and maybe only five feet tall. It was carved of stone and formed a steep and perfect spiral. The crypt contained some pretty ancient murals and not much else. Its appeal was mainly in the staircase leading down, and the cold, quiet atmosphere. Some documents in the hotel explained that this was the birthplace of Ferdinand of Aragon. The mansion where he was born was now a museum of some sort, and we headed there next. A large group of Spaniards was there on a tour, and the guide nearly trampled me in an effort to prevent me from entering the mansion. I was sad to leave the town behind—it was heavy with old-world intrigue and charm. Perched a top the butte, rimmed with remnants of a Medieval wall. All the little mysteries behind each tiny wooden door and narrow bend in the road were hard to leave unexplored.
32: We drove NNW towards San Sebastien. I got to ride up front which was nice; Jim makes for interesting conversation on nearly any topic. The drive went by quickly as we chatted. Our destination was Hondaribbia, on the Atlantic coast. We mistakenly tried to check in at the Parador, but as it turned out we were booked at a place down the street: Hotel Pampinot. It had a boutique feel to it, and was a nice change from the more institutional Paradors. The woman at the desk was very personable and gave Larry some good dining advice. The room was tiny but charming, all the furnishings felt as if they'd been put there by a caring hand and keen eye. It felt very homey. The ceiling had a fanciful painting of sun-kissed clouds and birds in flight. I liked how everyone's room was a little different. We were located in the heart of the original Medieval city, next door to the church and the old castle—which was now the Parador. Bullet pocks and large cannon ball divots were in evidence across the front of the the big square Parador. All of the little shops across the plaza from the Parador had their own colorful trim, giving the setting a sort of Bavarian or Alpen feel. Larry, Mom, and I wandered out from the old city and down to the waterfront area, where we'd had lunch upon our arrival in town. We stopped at a café along a long, tree-lined street and had a glass of sangria while the world went by. We dined that night at an intimate restaurant next to the hotel I made my bed on the floor, head facing the small balcony for fresh air, and I fell asleep to the sound of the band playing in the tavern across the street.
33: four shops I started to get bored with the whole thing. We walked the length of the commercial areas and stopped for lunch at a little tavern. It had a vaguely nautical feel, with white walls and dark wooden tables, bar, and trim, and a confined interior. I think at this point I had used up my wonderment, having been to so many fantastic places and been intrigued and energized time and again, I was now a bit overloaded. My energy level was down and the thought of reading by the pool was increasingly | Friday 9/19/2008 This morning offered a slight change of pace from our customary Parador breakfast. Pampinot served several different types of meats and cheeses, cereal, yogurt, and a mixed fruit platter. Larry skipped breakfast because he was heading to Bilbao and the Guggenheim museum. I was on the fence, but decided not to go--2 days in a row driving for hours at a time did not appeal to me. In the grand scheme of things, I wish I'd gone along since I accomplished very little on my last day in Spain. But at least I wasn't in a car for three of four hours! I needed to buy souvenirs for all my co-workers and this was my last chance. I can think of few things more disagreeable that shopping on a vacation, and I wasn't particularly looking forward to this chore. Mom and I headed off to the waterfront on foot, and things started off with energy, but after wandering aimlessly through three of
34: appealing. I opted to buy a big stack of (probably synthetic) pashminas to take home as gifts. It was from the 2nd store I'd entered, hours ago. We walked back to the old part of town and dropped off our gifts. Jim, Susan, and Jay were just finishing up a coffee in the sunlight of the old town square. We all returned to our rooms for siesta. When I awoke, I walked back down to the waterfront and found a bar on the esplanade. I got a beer and labored over a puzzle. The setting sun was casting a nice rich light on the opposite banks of the bay and the inlet, which was French soil. Bikes and rollerbladers passed by, along with families having el paseo, old couples, people pushing strollers. Several large groups of young students came and went. I finished the crossword, much to my satisfaction, and returned to the room to clean up before dinner. It was another Michelin star: "Alameda." We were greeted by a matronly and sophisticated silver-haired gal who apparently only spoke Spanish and French. The food was tasty and, perhaps in honor of it being our last night, Larry ordered a magnum of red wine that could barely be poured by one waiter. There was a private party being help on the terrace and at one point a mariachi band, of all things, began playing. The dual trumpets were nearly earsplitting but it was so lively and incongruent that we enjoyed it. Once a gain stuffed to stupefaction, we fell into bed (or pallet in my case) and conked out. Saturday 9/20/2008 On this day we drove across the border into France and took a one hour flight from Biarrtiz to Paris. We parted ways with the Kelleys, who were off to Bilbao to Join up with a Lindblad expedition. I had less than 24 hours to spend in Paris and by that point I was rather spent. I will briefly recount my activities: We took a cab to our hotel, which was one block away from the Lourve. It seemed quite opulent and fancy, though the rooms were rather small and average. Larry took us to a falafel place a mile or so east of the Louvre. It was delicious, and we enjoyed them while watching a group of guys trying to film a rollerblading stunt on some stairs. I then split off from the group and ambled all over creation. I saw the Notre Dame cathedral and several government buildings, but mostly just walked aimlessly. I briefly attempted to shop for souvenirs but my heart wasn't in it. At sundown I met with everyone at the hotel and Larry took us to a Chinese restaurant, of all things! It pretty much cemented my lukewarm feelings on gourmet dining. The location was very appealing though--dark and labyrinthine and exotic. I walked home from the place, but mainly out of duty. I failed to find a suitable pub or enticing location to have a drink. I did wander a bit through the Louvre courtyard and marvel at the thought of it 200 years ago. I then had a glass of cognac in the hotel bar, which was incredibly elegant and chic. Very dim, lacquered red walls, and ornamental ceilings. It was a quiet and somber end to my time in Europe. The next morning I would take the subway to Charles de Gaulle airport and fly home.
35: Images from pages 26, and 28--31 were taken from the internet to supplement my lost roll of film...