Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Day by the Sea and in the Mountains

04/27, Friday
We rented a car today to drive to the cape towns of Caraques and Port Lligat and the monastery at San Pere de Roses. The cape is mostly a Nature Park, the largest in Catalunya. It's only 30km.

[The spelling of the region varies depending on language, of course, but even within Spain it differs. The natives of the region prefer Catalonia because it is the original Catalan language. We have been told that Catalonia would like to break away from Spain to become a separate country. Catalonia is the wealthiest and most prosperous state in Spain. They are very proud of their heritage, too.]

The very hilly and winding road was comparable to the Almalfi coast. No doubt it would have been even more spectacular if the sun was out. We had the best day for our bike ride, which was good. We have a cute little car, a Volkswagen Polo with five speeds.

Caraques and Port Lligat are seaside towns. San Pere de Rodes overlooks the sea from an altitude of 500 meters (1500 feet). Our first real destination is Dali's home in Portilliqat, where he lived with his wife Gala for 40 years. He never returned after her death.

We were lucky to be admitted on short notice, less than 1/2 hour. Usually one must make reservations days in advance for a specific time. Even during this low-season, there are lots of people waiting for a tour. Another time that it proved helpful to be old ! Only 10 people at a time with a personal guide. Ours spoke three languages to repeat the explanation in French, Spanish, and English.

According to folklore, he purchased several fishermen one-room homes over a period of years, connecting them together into a very comfortable and unique 10-room cottage with clever outdoor spaces and a swimming pool. Today, it is a kind of shrine to Dali's, studio, decoration, photos with family and celebrities, quirky stuff.

Given that he was pretty unusual himself, their home is very orderly (undoubtedly "cleansed" for tourists) and extremely livable. He worked in his studio 8-9 hours a day. He preferred to sit while painting so he designed and built a wall-sized easel (12'x12') that moved up and down using a weight and pulley system.

The cottage has only a few of his actual art pieces, but quite a number of the goofy things he constructed as decoration. Gala had her own "retreat" that she had decorated herself. Lots of interesting pictures with dignitaries and celebraties spanning forty years or so.

One disappointing fact about Dali: he chose to stay in Spain during the Franco dictatorship unlike Casals and Picasso both of whom left in protest and concern for the country and their lives.

Leaving Dali behind, our GPS guides us to San Pere de Rodes, first along the coast, then into the hills all via twisting narrow roads. It is very cloudy/foggy at this elevation. There is supposed to be a large monastery here, but all I can see is the ruins of an old church (I assume it is the monastery, but no, it isn't Mom proves to me later). A bunch of mid-school kids are there to learn some history. There are several hiking trails of various distances and we start one. Nice wild flowers along the way, plus we get in some exercise.

Mom convinces me (after she asks someone returning) that there is a monastery out there in the fog. Ten minutes later, there it is, looming on a hill across the valley. We had hoped to eat a nice late lunch there, but they are closed for the day (4:00pm).

As seniors, we are admitted free (versus a €4pp fee) to take a self-guided tour of 23 spaces...tower, dungeon, chancellery, apse, cellar, cloister, chapel, hospital. It dates back to 1055AD with numerous additions over 2 or 3 centuries. Both Mom and I think the monks lived pretty good lives compared to vassals in the field. The monastery was very interesting and walking back to the car the fog lifted and we got a great view of the Mediterrian.

We're both hungry and tired, but make one more stop to see a nearby medieval town of Perlada primarily known now for it's summer concerts. we circle it outside the walls and decide we need to rest and eat more than see another ancient town.

Back in Figueres, after trying to find a parking place near the Ramblas near a restaurant, we return the car to the hotel and walk into town, about 15 minutes. Friday night, there is more activity than we've seen, and more restaurants open. We happen on a tapas place along the Ramblas where we get filled with 5 or 6 small dishes accompanied by vino tinto and a sangria. A fun and lively place, with good food.

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