Saturday, August 31, 2013

Guest Post - "Barcelona" by Ralph Lavelle

The very first thing after retrieving our stuff from the luggage carousel at Barcelona airport, I sought out una librería, a bookshop. I’d been looking forward to reading in Spanish in Spain, and I knew that, unlike Bono, I'd find what I was looking for - La sombra del viento (“The Shadow of the Wind”) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón - in the first bookshop I came across. From what I've read, this gothic blockbuster lies somewhere between a Dan Brown potboiler and an erudite, labyrinthine Umberto Eco one, and is just as successful.
A couple of days before leaving for Europe I had researched bookshops in Barcelona and found a couple worth investigating, but I knew it might be a few days after our arrival before I got to them. On the other hand, the airport bookshop would give me what I needed quickly, the Zafón, which indeed I started reading that same day. Más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando (“a bird in the hand is worth more than one hundred flying”) as they say.

And so, jet lagged and unable to sleep past 5 in the morning for the first few days of our sejourn, I ploughed into La sombra with my Android phone’s Google Translate app at my side every step of the way. For me reading a popular novel set in Barcelona, albeit one of dark alleyways and abandoned mansions, against the backdrop of a civil war, was a perfect complement to the standard tasteful restaurant and architecture guides you get when you come here. Although seriously, I have to say that there’s nothing really tasteful about the Sagrada Família. It really is unlike anything else. We would have given it a miss if it wasn’t for 5-year old Eoin insisting we buy a miniature Sagrada from one of the ubiquitous quioscos, which made me realise how iconic it was, and how it would be madness not to at least be able to say “Yep, seen it.”

Another of the highlights of our trip was Barcelona Cathedral, which naturally enough was dark and sepulchral inside, but whose plaza out front was spacious and full of people taking photos, celebrating mass, or having an expensive coffee, as befits one of the tourist epicentres of this city. The area around the cathedral had a more sinister ambiente in the novel, of course, and it was fun to go home each day after our sightseeing and read about Daniel, el hijo del sombrerero (what a wonderful word), the son of the hatmaker, passing through the alleyways in and around the catedral.
And as I write this, three months after Barcelona, I've finally just finished La sombra. It’s been a long and rewarding slog, and I now know know how to say “his hands trembled as he turned the dusty pages in the failing light” in Spanish. Actually I don’t really, but I’d recognise those words if I ever saw them in another Spanish novel. A novel like El juego del ángel (“The Angel’s Game”) for instance, the sequel to La Sombra, which I picked up second hand in Girona in one of those street book stalls you see quite a lot in Europe. God, I miss Europe.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Trip Part Dos - L'Avenc de Tavertet

We bravely set out from Barcelona in our hire car.  Well, R was brave as he was the one that had to remember to change gears with the right hand, drive on the wrong side of the road, navigate the very narrowed-laned streets and listen to me screech panicked directions.  But we made it and slowly headed north-west into the countryside.  We were heading for the Collsacabra mountains about 80 kms away.  

The town of Vic
However our first stop was the charming town of Vic.  The medieval town has a large town square with a weekly market.  Unfortunately we missed it and arrived as they were cleaning up.  We managed to find a charming café for lunch and wondered around before continuing our trip. We had intended to stock up on food as our accommodation was self-catering but everything was closed for siesta. Ah sure (to be said with an Irish accent), we said, we'll find somewhere closer to L'Avenc to stock up....

R standing in front of the original house with the new extension on the left
 From Vic we started heading for the mountains, and as we continued the weather grew worse.  Dark threatening clouds loomed and the temperature dropped.  The roads steadily grew narrower and the pot holes larger.  The towns were all closed up and deserted. The last few kilometres were on a one-laned dirt road.  Just when we were beginning to worry there it was: L’Avenc de Tavertet.  

 I first found out about L'Avenc when I picked up 'A Castle in Spain' in the Library. I'd never heard of Matthew Parris but when I took the book home R recognised the name.  He's a fairly well known journalist over in England.
It's a great book about his family's (very) long journey to restore this 13th century house in a truly breathtaking setting.

We arrived mid-week and for most of our stay we were the only ones there.  We had bracing walks each morning before our breakfast and then recovered in the huge indoor heated pool.

No they haven't been sucking on lemons, the strange faces are due to an extremely strong and cold wind
Our first walk was up the hill behind the house and out to a rocky ledge with sweeping views down the cloud filled valley.  It was gorgeous to watch the clouds slowly disappear as the sun got hotter.

The next morning was an easier and less muddy tramp through the cliffside fields full of wildflowers.   

We also did a short drive to the town of Rupit for lunch. The old town has been wonderfully preserved partly due to it's inaccessibility -it's a long way from anywhere. Apparently on the weekends its full of Barcelonians getting away for the weekend and enjoying its delicious restaurants.  As it was a weekday we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

So, if you're ever in Barcelona and want to see a bit of the countryside you really couldn't find a more beautiful and breathtaking place than L'Avenc de Tavertet.  Just go.