Vilanova i la Geltru, Catalonia, Spain Saturday, December 20, 2008
We spent the first few days here relaxing and, as always, catching up with the chores. How nice to be back on a site where the washing machines are efficient and there is sufficient sun to dry things. How nice as well to be on a site
where there is space all around, plenty of room on our pitch, plenty of places to walk round and explore, yet a steady flow of new faces and people, English, Dutch, French and German, to chat to. Now that winter is well on the way we are meeting more
seasoned travellers, rather than "holidaymakers". Big American style RVs are the norm, as are twin axled European motor homes. People who have been on the road not for a few months, but for a few years. People who come to Spain every
winter, year in year out. We chatted with one guy who has spent the last seven Christmases on this site.
These are the ones who are used to being on the road at Christmas. As the festival approaches more and more vans are decorated with Christmas lights. One Dutch couple even have a lit up Christmas tree in their awning!
Yet the weather is not at all seasonal. We have had some chilly nights, and a bit of rain, but most of the time it has been sunny and we have been able to sit out. We have not gone back to the shorts and tee shirts, as some have, but nevertheless are still enjoying the comparative warmth. Locals say the temperature at the moment is about 5 degrees below the norm. Last Christmas day it was 24. No doubt it will heat up dramatically as we fly home, then cool down again when we return!
Another appealing feature of this site is the large population of cats. We hadn't been here long before a small posse decided to adopt us. Mrs Black, her two kittens, and a pretty little cream cat with facial markings like a comic burglar's mask all made themselves at home in our awning, so of course we had to feed them and provide them with bedding....!!
The nearby town of Vilanova is a busy port with a fine long beach. Half way along they have built a spit out to sea and placed a huge bronze statue of a cow on it. Close up we see that the cow is hollow and contains a naked nymph. Anthony Gormley would be proud. It provides a fine focal point on the beach and actually increases the length of bathable shoreline considerably. At this point it is possible to sit with your back to the sea facing the sea at the same time. An odd feeling. And even though it is officially off-season, the council tractor still rakes the sand regularly, keeping it all neat and tidy. At intervals along the promenade are exercise posts with instructions for stretching, press-ups, lifts etc. All very fit and efficient. We contented ourselves with just walking, and the only lifting we did was the odd sea shell.
The next resort along, Sitges, is better known. Here there is another splendid beach backed by a charming old town and an impressive church on the central promontory. We spent a pleasant morning here, wandering the streets, craning up at a number of buildings in Modernista style (the Catalonian version of Art Nouveau, whose best-known exponent was Gaudi.) However parking was somewhat expensive so we did not stay as long as we would have liked.
Along the coast in the other direction is Tarragona. What a surprise that city was. The preservation of the Roman and Medieval remains is fantastic; as well as a huge amphitheatre, there is one end of a circus, the remains of the Forum and the old City wall. Just as in Rome itself, the ruins are inhabited by stray cats who seem proud of their imperial surroundings. The streets are narrow, with some old arcades and a grand cathedral with an amazing cloister. And then of course there is the Modernista architecture, as this is where many of the greats served their "apprenticeships". This was a town we were just passing through, but ended up staying the whole day.
On Saturday we took bus and train to Barcelona. The day trip started with the local bus service from the campsite into town. By car this trip is about 10 minutes. By bus, taking the magical mystery tour round the suburbs, it is the best part of 40 minutes. Good value for €1.10, but not if you are in a hurry! The train runs every 15 minutes and again is excellent value at €5.20 return. It takes you right under the city and you emerge at Passeig de Gracia right in the middle of an impressive stretch of Modernista masterpieces. We had visited and explored these a few years back. Today's visit was to refresh our memories and simply drink in the sights.
We did however visit the Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat (Local history museum), which had been completed since our last visit. This is in the Palau Reial, the palace in which Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand greeted Columbus on his return from America, and also where, a few years earlier, John Cleese & Co appeared in their big scarlet cloaks to found the Spanish Inquisition. Most of the museum is in the basement, where a cleverly constructed walkway takes you through the excavations of Iberian, Roman and medieval buildings situated under the palace. The whole structure is so cleverly laid out that we managed to start at the exit and do the whole thing backwards, turn round and see it forwards then come out without paying!
The Rambla was the same as ever, lined with amazing human statues and stores selling tack. At the top end is the pet market, with cages crammed full of rabbits and guinea pigs, mice and rats, chinchillas and chipmunks, tortoises and terrapins, chicks and ducklings, and every conceivable colour of finch. The RSPCA would have a field day.
Another day we went inland to explore some Romanesque churches. Just 5 miles inland from us is a very picturesque lake (a reservoir actually) backed by a wonderful old castle, aptly named Castellets, together with an 11th Century church. Further inland is L'Arboc, a small town of little consequence but for another incredible collection of Modernista buildings. The biggest, La Giralda, was built by a wealthy Catalan, who having returned from the new world with a fortune wanted to tempt his bride-to-be to leave Seville. So he built a house for her with a tower which is a half-size copy of the tower of Seville cathedral.
After more wanderings around the countryside and through the vineyards - this is the heart of Cava country - we came to the old fortified hill of Olerdola, an Iberian fort which became a Roman fort then was abandoned. It was repopulated in medieval times as a stronghold against the Moors, then abandoned again. It is in a splendid position with views to the coast and far inland.
The other day I (John) decided I was long overdue a haircut. We had spotted a Barbiera along the road one day so we went back to investigate. Looked ok, on a parade of shops, next door to a Halal butcher and grocery store. Turns out the guy was Moroccan. It may well be that he and the butcher were doing a job swap day. End result is that what little hair I had to start with is just a bed of stubble. However I enjoyed the news in Arabic on Al-Jazeera as he did it!
On Sunday we fly home for a brief visit over Christmas, first to Mum, Jen and family in Dorset, then to Leeds for Christmas with Michael and Nicole. Helen joins us on Boxing Day. We may well be able to catch up with a few friends while we are home, but time is short so please forgive and don't be offended if we can't catch all of you.