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Trip Report Catalonia

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We just got back from 10 days in Catalonia, and we couldn’t have done it without the invaluable help of people on this forum. We are a middle aged couple and this was our first trip to Europe in about 30 years, so it was a really big deal for us. We flew into and out of Barcelona, arriving on Sunday, May 24 and departing on Wednesday, June 3. I mention the dates because they are relevant in terms of prices and some of our experiences, as I go along. Anyway, I hope this won’t be too boring, and that some of my observations will be helpful to others. I should also mention that this was a very budget-conscious trip.

Upon arrival, things immediately started out on the wrong foot, when I went to buy a ticket to the Aerobus from a vending machine, and it wouldn’t give me a ticket and ate my credit card! Little did we know that we could have bought the ticket on the bus rather than buying it in advance! When we asked for help we were told that an inspector would be coming around in about 2 hours! DH was ready to catch the next plane home, but after about 20 minutes of stewing, he started poking around the credit card slot, and miraculously my card came out. What a relief that was! So we boarded the bus, and bought roundtrip tickets in order to save a few euros. Who knew that they had an expiration date? When we boarded the bus to go home on June 3 the tickets wouldn’t work. Luckily there was an inspector on the bus who gave the driver permission to let us ride with the expired tickets (they had only expired the day before).

Anyway, we found our way to our guesthouse, which was in a residential neighborhood near the Lesseps stop on the metro. We chose it strictly for price (50 euros/night), and it was fine for us.

We spent 3 days in Barcelona with our 19 year old son as tourguide. (He’d been there since March spending a term at the Univ. of Barcelona). I have to confess that we are not “city” people, and although we could appreciate all that Barcelona had to offer, it was the quiet places that we enjoyed the most, so I’ll comment on those since they don’t often get mentioned.

We made a brief visit to Montjuic at the end of one day, and regretted that we didn’t have the energy to walk around more. It’s a very peaceful oasis, and was practically deserted. We sat in one spot for a while and watched the ships entering the harbor – a great way to relax.

We spent another day hiking from our guesthouse to Tibidabo, which brought us through the Zona Alta, an area of lovely single family homes that’s off the tourist track. From there we walked through what I can only describe as an urban jungle, until we came out onto a road that led up to the cathedral. DS assured us that it was worth the 2 Euro admission to go to the top of the cathedral, and he was definitely right. There’s a fabulous view, and being up there with the sculptures that extend out from the cathedral was awesome. The walk back to town was much easier than our hike up. DS led us to an incredibly long stairway (there must have been 300 steps) which brought us down through some very nice private homes perched on the hill, and from there it was easy to get on the Metro back into town.

Another thing we did, mainly because of the location of our guesthouse, was explore the Gracia area, which was mentioned in a little guidebook that I had bought. There is a private residence there that was designed by Gaudi (one of his earlier works and quite different from the more famous buildings), and a wonderful market called Mercat de la Libertat. I should thank a fellow traveler, who wrote about checking out the local markets – without that suggestion, we never would have gone. It was a much more sane experience than the Boqueria, less crowded, and no tourists. And although it was much smaller, it was every bit as interesting. We even managed to get a seat at the one restaurant, and have a wonderful breakfast. This was one of the highlights for me, because I felt like we were experiencing Barcelona like the residents do.

That's about it for Barcelona, except to say that I wish I had paid more attention to all the restaurant recommendations that people gave, and had done more planning in advance. Our dining experiences were not the best, although we did have a very nice meal at La Rita on Aragon just off the P de Gracia.

I'll continue with more later . . .

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    On day 4 we rented a car and headed for the Costa Brava. Getting out of Barcelona was pretty easy since the people at Avis gave us very good instructions with a map. I wish I had thought to ask them about how best to return to the city, because that ended up being pretty stressful, although we did survive.

    Anyway, our first stop was Tossa de Mar. As we approached the town, I found myself wondering why we had come. It seemed like a typical beach resort with lots of hotels and not much charm. But by the time we reached the beach, it was quite lovely. This seemed to be a recurring theme throughout our travels – arriving on the outskirts of town and being totally turned off, and then discovering the treasure within. We spent a good few hours there, walking around the old walled city, and eating lunch (which was lousy – one of a string of food disappointments for me.), and then we headed for the scenic drive from Tossa to St Feliu de Guixos. It was a beautiful drive, and there were several viewing points where we could pull over, so DH could enjoy the views too. We pretty much stopped at every one. St. Feliu de Guixos was a disappointment. I keep reading about it everywhere, and can’t figure out why, so maybe we missed something. Or maybe it was the time of year. There didn’t seem to be much happening, or many people around, and after a brief walk along the waterfront, we headed for our final destination of the day, Calella de Palafrugell, a little worried that it might turn out like St. F de G.

    Calella de P was also very quiet, with many of the shops closed up, but we loved it anyway. In fact, it was one of the highlights of the trip. First off, our hotel was wonderful, and incredibly cheap. We stayed at the Hotel Garbi for 48.15 Euros a night, and that included a wonderful breakfast complete with bacon and eggs and some kind of meatballs, in addition to the usual ham, cheese, bread, fruit, tomatoes, etc. The hotel is up on a hillside, but just a 5 minute walk to the harbor. Our room had a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. It really felt like paradise. After we settled in, we took a walk down to the beach and through town, and discovered the walkway to Llafranc. What a surprise that was! Absolutely enchanting.

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    We walked to Llafranc and got there around 7:30. It was the night of the World Championship Soccer match between FC Barcelona and Manchester United, and all the restaurants in Llafranc had TV’s set up outside and were filled with Brits. We thought about staying and eating there, but were afraid the walk home would be too dark, so instead we walked back to Calella de P and had a lovely dinner out on a terrace by the water. When FC Barcelona got their first goal, we could hear cheers from all over the town.

    The next morning at breakfast there was a group of French tourists who were provided with bag lunches before leaving the dining room. When we finished eating, we headed on foot for the Botanical Garden at Cap Roig, having no idea how far it was, but figuring it couldn’t be too far. It was probably about a mile away, but before we got there, we discovered some hiking trail markers – the first of many that we would see on our trip. Little did we know that Spain is a hiker’s heaven. This first signpost indicated that we could hike to a beach in about an hour if we followed the dirt road. We followed it a little ways just to explore a bit and passed by a little farm, and when we came back to the beginning we ran into a group of French hikers. They were probably the same ones eating breakfast at our hotel, and obviously knew about the wonderful hiking opportunities around. From Calella you can also walk to Tamariu in about 2 hours, which would be a wonderful way to spend a day – walk there, have a leisurely lunch by the water, and then walk back.

    We entered the Botanical Garden as soon as it opened, and it was one of the highlights of the trip – incredible plants and flowers, with the Mediterranean peering at us from all sides. After spending about an hour there, we weren’t nearly ready to leave, but had to check out of our room by noon, so we walked back, checked out and then drove back to spend another hour walking around the gardens. In one area there was a crew of workers with a crane constructing what looked like a staging area, and when we asked about it on our way out, we were told that there’s a music festival there in July and August. The gate attendant showed us a brochure for the festival, and the names I can remember were Julio Iglesias, James Taylor and Leonard Cohen. There were many others as well, and the ticket prices started at 65 Euros and worked their way up to more than 200! Clearly Calella is a very different place in the summertime.

    Oh, and this is totally out of the chronology, but I just remembered something from Barcelona that’s worth mentioning. One evening we were walking around Barceloneta looking for a restaurant, and right on the main drag, there were 2 men, who were not together, but just happened to be near each other, and both were walking through the streets totally naked!

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    We left Calella de Palafrugell and planned to visit Tamariu, Begur, Pals and Peretallada on our way to Girona. First stop was Tamariu, which is a very small town, but quite nice. There were several restaurants open along the beach that looked appealing, but it was too early eat(somehow we adjusted very easily to the Spanish schedule of lunch around 2:00 and dinner around 9:00 at the earliest). We could easily have spent a relaxing day at the beach if we’d had our bathing suits on, but instead just sat on a wall overlooking the harbor and people-watched for a while. Then it was on to Begur, which was deserted and very quiet. I don’t think we got the full flavor of what a nice town it was because it really seemed like a ghosttown. We walked up to the top of the castle, and spent about 30 minutes just admiring the view. There were very few restaurants open, but we managed to have a lunch of tapas in a lovely old place with an arched stone ceiling.
    In the end we skipped over Pals and Peretallada and went straight to Girona because DH had had his fill of stopping in small towns along the way. Our hotel in Girona was the biggest mistake of all my planning, and I would have changed it even before we left on the trip except that somehow when I reserved it, I missed the fact that there was a cancellation fee. The hotel was okay, but it was about 3 miles from the center of Girona, which meant that we had to drive in and deal with the traffic and finding a place to park in order to visit the places of interest. After getting settled and napping a bit, we headed for Girona and spent the rest of the day wandering around and admiring the whole town.

    The next day was Friday, and since we wanted to put off more Girona until Saturday (market day), we took a day trip to Rupit. The last 10-15 kms was a beautiful (but windy) drive up into the hills, and I felt bad that DH didn’t get to appreciate it as there were no places to pull off and enjoy the scenery. Rupit is a charming little town, and a hiker’s paradise.

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    We followed a trail that led to Salt de Sallent (the Sallent waterfall) and every time we came to a small area of rushing water, DH would say “do you think this is it?”. I kept telling him that we would know it when we got there, and after a relatively short walk (maybe 30 minutes) in the woods, suddenly we were out in the open, overlooking an incredible gorge. There were lots of trail signs, but none of them were directing us to Salt de Sallent, and it took a minute to realize that the reason there were no directions was because we were already there, standing at the top of the falls! After exploring the immediate area in depth and taking photos from every possible angle and enjoying the majesty of it all, we headed back the same way we came. More ambitious hikers would have plenty of opportunities for longer hikes. We got back into the village just before lunchtime and stopped in at a local grocer where we bought some wonderful strawberries and sandwich fixings (the ubiquitous ham and cheese) for lunch.

    On Saturday we drove into Girona and parked by the Parc de le Devesa. We had no clue where we were going, but I had read that there was a market in the park, so we just walked through the park and eventually found it. There were two main sections, one for food and the other for clothing, and we spent the whole morning there, sampling and buying various fruits, and just taking in the scene. The rest of the day was spent exploring Girona. There is so much to see, and the history is almost palpable. As an added bonus, there was a bride and groom posing for photos on the steps of the Cathedral. It’s always so nice to see the locals living their lives, when you are generally surrounded by tourists.

    That evening we arrived at the B&B where we would spend the next 3 nights. http://www.masfuselles.com We found it with help from Maribel, who directed us to www.toprural.com , a wonderful website for finding charming rural accommodations. Mas Fuselles is generally a place for young families with children, and we didn’t meet that criteria, but loved it just the same. It’s a beautiful place with lovely spacious rooms and a warm and welcoming atmosphere. I would recommend it to anyone, as long as you can handle having a lot of children around. Most of the other guests were families from the Barcelona area, although they do get tourists like us on occasion. They serve dinner on weekends only, and it was well worth it. We arrived on Saturday evening, and had told them ahead that we would be dining there. They serve a 3 course meal, plus salad greens and unlimited wine, ratafia and coffee, for 16 Euros per person. There’s no menu, you just eat whatever they are serving that night, and it’s always delicious. I had thought that they only served on Friday and Saturday, but Sunday morning Joan asked me if we wanted to have dinner that night (I think it might have been a special 3 day weekend) and we jumped at the chance. On Monday, he apologized that they don’t serve dinner, but offered to cook us a meal and just leave it in the fridge for us to re-heat whenever we got back from our day trip. I was really amazed at the offer, and we didn’t take him up on it, although in hindsight we should have!

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    Thanks so much for your comments. It really helps to know that someone is reading it and not totally bored.

    On Sunday we did something we hadn’t planned on at all. We went to Banyoles and watched the finals of the Rowing World Cup. We found out about it when several of the teams were staying at our hotel in Girona, and it was actually a nice change of pace.

    Monday we headed for Besalu, Camprodon and Beget, and although they were all completely charming, the day was a disappointment for me, partially because we were trying to do too much in one day, and partially because it was a frustrating food day. I definitely learned some lessons. Besalu was very quaint, and we took photos galore. Unfortunately the Mikvah in the Jewish quarter was closed and that was something I’d been looking forward to. There was a very nice restaurant just at the end of the bridge. I took note of it, thinking that we might stop there for dinner on our way back, and was thrilled when DH suggested the same thing later in the day. On to Camprodon, another lovely town with a very different feeling than anywhere we’d been before, although I can’t quite explain why – maybe because it’s surrounded by mountains.. Again, there were loads of hiking trails, but we didn’t want to get involved in too much walking because then we wouldn’t have time to get to Beget, which for some reason I had my heart set on. Meanwhile, it was lunchtime, and rather than eating in a restaurant, we decided to get some takeout prepared food from one of several such places that we saw in town. I ordered something that looked like a meat stew, and the proprietress told me it was pork. But it turned out to be all bones and fat, with no meat at all! What a mistake that was! DH was a little bit happier with his eggplant smothered in some kind of yellow sauce, but not much.

    The road to Beget I knew would be winding, but I was not prepared for it being treacherous. This was the most difficult drive of the week, and I’d be interested to know how it compares to the drive to Cadaques, which I have read about in so many threads. Here, we were driving up and down a mountain, on a serpentine road that was barely wide enough for two vehicles. DH was pretty tense the whole time, and I just prayed that Beget would be so utterly wonderful that he would feel it was worth it. It was indeed incredibly picturesque, but the fact that we had the return trip looming in front of us really put a damper on our enjoyment. We were also pretty tired, having done a lot of walking already that day. I looked longingly at the menu posted at El Forn, wishing that we could eat dinner there and knowing that there was no way we could drive that road in the dark. So, I guess I would say that Beget is worth doing, but only if you plan to stay there for a night or two (El Forn also has rooms). Next time I would arrive in the early evening, have dinner there and spend the night. Then the next day could be spent hiking, and you could either leave before dark or spend another night before heading out.

    So, there we were, tired, hungry, and heading back to Besalu for a nice dinner on our way home. . . and the restaurant in Besalu was closed. In fact, both restaurants that we had noticed earlier in the day were closed. We ended up eating in Banyoles at a lousy restaurant, and wishing we had taken Joan up on his offer to leave dinner in the fridge.

    All in all it was a fabulous trip. We both fell in love with Spain, and can’t wait to go back again. Next time we will spend at least 2 nights in Cadaques. I’m sorry we missed it on this trip (a day trip was in my original plan), but I’m convinced that it shouldn’t be a daytrip, so we made the right decision. Next time I will also do more research and planning with regard to restaurants. Thanks again to all of you for your invaluable help.

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    Loved your report¡

    Yes, the road to Beget was our most difficult drive as well, really just room for 1 vehicle, a wide 1 lane road rather than a real 2 lane road. But I just had to go to take photographs and to see the Majestat in the church, but what a drive! Nonetheless, Beget oozes picturesque-ness.

    I promise the drive to Cadaqués is a picnic in comparison. Endless curves but wide enough even for trucks, construction equipment and tour buses. Just tedious.

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    I guess I must be DH, husband of beebs. I have to admit that I was lukewarm to neutral with regard to our trip to Catalunya. Now, I can't wait to return. I put it to DW this way: from now until our return trip, I will be like a chrysalis, enduring what I have to endure before becoming a butterfly once again. Want to know what the first time visit to Catalunya is like? Go to YouTube and search for a live performance of Queen's Freddy Mercury and diva Montserrat Caballe singing "Barcelona".

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    You've inspired me to do my research to have some dining plans in hand - helps reduce some of the stress I think...... you packed a lot in sounds like a great trip and budget too.

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    I highly recommend planning restaurants in advance, calling and making reservations. We tried the "wander around and see what looks good" approach, and it really doesn't work.

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    Thanks for a great TR. We're planning a trip to this area in Spring at about the same time you were there and you gave me some great information --albeit way too many places from which to choose. As I understand your report u spent 11 days driving in this area? May I ask if you were only going to spend half that time, where might u choose to visit? Thank you.

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