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Archive for September, 2012

What a flurry of writing! There is a reason of course. I have just waved Cottager off on his flights home and have FOUR hours to burn here at Toulouse airport before my own flight to Prague. Four hours and free wifi and a lot of stuff to catch up on means one achy iPhone index finger and stares of amazement from the Frenchman sitting opposite me.

Why Prague, you ask? Because I’ve never been there and neither has my current work-spouse, AB. So we agreed to meet there today and spend a few days wandering about before she goes off to Russia to visit another colleague of ours who is on assignment there while I go to Paris to visit a former colleague and my previous work-spouse AJ.

Does that make sense?
If you aren’t clear on what a work-spouse is you can get up to speed on-line. Try Wikipedia.

Really have to stop now or will get an RSI. Cottager took the iPad home, you see. More (short) posts from Prague.

Thanks for the great holiday Cottager! Travel safe, my dear.

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This lovely town is certainly swarming with tourists in the summer but in early autumn it keeps all it’s charm while losing the crowds. We spent two nights, hiked to an olive oil mill and then a castle high above and also did some shopping – another benefit of traveling in September is that the stores are clearing out almost everything at 50% off or better.

We had two good dinners here at reasonable prices for a tourist hub. But our hotel was over-priced and under- charming (can’t wait to hook up with my old buddy Tripadvisor on that one!). Keeps it interesting. A few pictures then.

The view from our hotel room;
And from the castle;
Walking about in the evening;

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We chose this town for an overnight stop on our way back to France from Barcelona. Unlike some bigger places on the Costa Brava it is not known for it’s party scene. What sealed the deal were coastal walks in each direction – one to Cap Roig botanical garden and in the other direction to a lighthouse with a stunning view. We headed for the garden first, and spent an hour wandering the meticulous sloping terraces of a lovely old chateau.

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On the way back we stopped at platje Golfet, a near-deserted beach where we swam in the crystal clear water before following the coastal path back to our hotel in town for a picnic lunch on the deck. After lunch we climbed to the lighthouse, rewarded ourselves with a jug of Sangria and them lolled around the pool until dinner. A perfect day in Catalunya.

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I knew nothing about tapas and now I know only a very little, but that I will share:

These are home-style Spanish tapas. They are served on plates you can share around. There are meatballs in a spicy sauce, egg and potato tortilla, croquettes and bravas potatoes with spicy sauce.

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And these are slightly fancier Tapas:
Paper- thin Iberian ham on a slice of baguette, tuna salad in the square pot, smoked salmon and creme fraiche in a glass and a dainty little salad.

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And these are my favorite kind: Basque tapas also known as pinxtos – hope I spelled it right! Really flavorful and inventive little bits of anything that will fit on a large toothpick or on a slice of bread then secured with a toothpick and usually drizzled with a sauce or olive oil. You help yourself from an immense eye level buffet and when you are done they count your toothpicks to tally your bill. Noisy, chaotic and fun!

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A few more photos of festival events in Barcelona during our recent visit:

The first is an exhibition of antique hand powered carnival rides from Antigua and Bermuda. After waiting his turn in line, the kid that got stuck in the rocket ship was not very pleased!

Salsa drum and marching bands are everywhere. My new life goal is to be a part of one. If I wasn’t entirely lacking in rhythm and musical ability, I’d just start one. Hello Gibsons percussionists – Call me!

Live music venues went all through the afternoon and evening. This was a full orchestra performing at Placa Catedral. We also saw African, Indian and lots of Spanish performers.

Gegants, or giants, up to five meters tall spent Saturday night asleep in City Hall. The emerged the next morning, two by two, to dance. They paraded through the city that evening. I have some great film footage that doesn’t want to upload from this iPad. The photo does the dozens of gegants little credit. So you should just plan to go. For all you frugal travelers…all these events free of charge!

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The Cottager and I are more the country variety of mice, but I was determined to go somewhere entirely new on this trip abroad – well two entirely new places actually- and the first was Catalunya, a lovely area of Northeast Spain with unique language and traditions and a strong desire for self-determination. We timed our visit to coincide with the biggest annual festival in Barcelona and made our hotel reservation months in advance. It was worth it.

Though neither of us typically like crowds and there were many, many travelers who had the same idea as us, La Merce, which honors one of two patron saints of the city, still belongs very much to the people of Barcelona. The festival has a truly heartfelt enthusiasm and involves so many people that you are left in no doubt that it is a genuine celebration rather than something put on for tourism sake. The sheer number of music venues, street performances and Catalan traditional events is overwhelming. And pretty much everything is free

Here are some pictures from one of the most famous events, the Correfoc or fire run. It involves a lot of drumming and marching Salsa style bands, and fireworks-spewing monsters and demons. Unlike in Vancouver where the use of fireworks in this way would be out of the question,here there was no difficulty in showering an all ages crowd with live embers. In fact the biggest official presence was the street cleaning crews. No first aid stations or ambulances standing by with motors running, no police pouring out everyones beer and slapping cuffs on belligerent youth. No belligerent youths, actually. Absolutely everyone entered into the spirit of the event. As did we, though prudently sheltering our tender flesh and synthetic travel wear when the fireworks turned on us.

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In France, everyday starts with a trip to the bakery. Even in little Colombiers there are two. My favorite pastry is pain aux raisins. It is never exactly the same at any two bakeries but it is always delicious and usually still warm from the oven. When you enter the bakery it is considered correct to greet everyone with a murmured “Mesdames, Messieurs” unless one of these is missing or is present only in the singular in which case you must adjust this greeting.

In other words, you have to do a quick inventory of the number and gender of the folks in the room, and then speak rationally in another language and all while still half-asleep and wholly overcome by the smells in the bakery, which cause your mouth to flood with saliva.

And now it is suddenly my turn to order. Everyone leans in to hear what this weird tall lady will say…

All my pronunciation practice deserts me in that moment and instead of ordering a big loaf and two raisin pastries (approx phonetic – gro pan ay de pan o ray san) I order a pregnant bread and two breads with reason (approx phonetic – gross pan ay de pan o rays -on). I believe I only imagine a hiss as the words leave my mouth.

These delectable items are presented to me notwithstanding my gaucheness. The bill is two euros seventy or about CDN $3.50. You probably thought France was expensive? Only to my self- esteem.

Here are specimens of pain aux raisin from the two local bakeries. The rectangular one is from the bakery around the corner. Cottager preferred this one. It had raisins and that fake green fruit one puts in Christmas cake. I preferred the one from the baker at the Newport – the swirly one. Flaky warm and sweet. So good. Worth any humiliation, really. To get both in one photo I had to sneak back through town with the goods after my visit to the second baker. I hope you appreciate my efforts.

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