THURSDAY, June 5: THIS became one of the most astounding travel days of my life. It remains a highlight of the trip. Franco loaned us a car, Emilio was going to take us to a medieval monastery, but we ended up driving what seemed a mysterious round trip through very remote hill areas of Catalunya. We found later that this is one of the most renowned, romantic medieval parts of Spain…… HERE in what seems innocent beauty, a land of farmers growing grapes, olive trees, gardens, produce, then steep hillsides, and absolute beauty, rich history exists. This part of the world has had its long share of occupation: Arabs conquered and ruled this land for hundreds of years BC, and then came the Romans who built many of the ruins found today. They were welcomed at first as liberators (sound familiar?), then the "Church" began to grow and empire really came to mean forced subjugation. But today, in these rural spots, we see some ghostly but spectacular architectural and historic masterpieces. Some have been beautifully restored. In a few places, at every turn in the road, large medieval churches AND castles could be seen in every direction you'd peek. The car would come around a corner to see on hilltops, the ancient beauty of a castle, and Church with little farming settlements in the river valleys below .....It left me wondering just how many of those families today are the same families that were there 500 years ago. I'm claiming this was a spectacular place in beauty AND history. The day began in Reus where one gargoyle seemed to be calling out, "I'm watching you............." We'll skip much of the day's travel, but the first truly significant village we come to is a classic late medieval place on its own. It's largely restored, and the Roman gates still surround these lovely streets (tiny lanes...with homes/shops either side): Santa Coloma de Queralt – an ancient village still much alive, and vibrant, but I do NOT think one person we met spoke English. We were kind of “stared at” if we saw someone…..I KNOW not many tourists come through this gorgeous sumptuous place. This place had the look and feel of Old Europe....a walled inner city, no cars, four midieval gateways stll preserved into town, an open plaza or two with shops all-round and stylish people shopping, dining, and living life. Gorgeous. Unfortunately, the large Cathedral was closed: But one of the side doors, just a side door mind you, was open to show this ceiling for a minor hallway. I know, this was modern and not part of the restoration...just showing what these people are willing to go through to make something beautiful: We move on, stopping at a rural cemetery, other points of interest, then we come to the place I've heard about: PONTILS - THIS soulful place almost requires more writing later. SO few visitors come here, that as soon as the car was parked and a door closed, an older lady opened the shutters from her 2nd floor, and kept watching us, front and back ….Emlio explains who we are....and she immediately warms up to tell us her daughter is married to a Canadian and living in Toronto. Somehow we KNOW that THIS is not the location of the real "ruin" we intend to see.....so we get to the close next corner, and there it is: IT is here in Pontils we hike to the gothic ancient small church and embattlement tower…..that is, nowdays, finally collapsing. THIS tiny medieval church now falling in with defense tower adjoining it was somehow full or more soul than anything I've ever seen in my life. Almost ghostlike, you could feel that time hundreds of years ago when villagers would be alerted by a flame in the tower that invaders were coming, and to get themselves with livestock UP the hill to the protected tower and church. We all explored the entire spot, almost silent, it truly felt reverent: Inside was no less powerful a feeling: That was hard to leave, but the hours were moving on....... Emilio's plan was to get us to Santes Creus, the old monastery. The Monastery at Santes Creus is next...............and we haven't had LUNCH yet! Santes Creus - A Monastery 500 years in the making, and begun around 1100. This was a huge religious compound, with the walls outside and leading up to it being private expensive homes, bookstores, giftshop, etc....all in typical old stonework. This ALL has been masterfully restored. The CATHEDRAL has a spectacular window inside..... Just the FRAMING of the window is pretty nice.........don't you think? The front of the church is this: Getting to the walkways let you past this beauty in stonework: The covered walkways surrounding gardens have THIS much detail in the work: Those walkways surrounded gardens like these: And THAT was only the parts of the place that have been restored. Lots of work still waits: I had to keep reminding myself this was an ordinary place, NOT one of the famous Catholic Shrines to history. It was obvious SOME of the old spiritual leaders either had more money or influence than others. Many were of course buried in the floor, but some had crypts built in their honor: OR this one: That was enough. Our minds/souls were full. WE were now starving, it was 1:30 pm, and we had NO idea if any good food was in this village. After asking the giftshop crew "where" we should have lunch, they reply there were only two places IN the village, one a pub with simpler food, and a restaurant at the hotel. After walking down the hill toward the two places, we see ALL the locals walking INTO the Hotel venue. So, the decision was easily made. We eat at Hostal Grau - A pleasant surprise when the Waitress was told, "Capisco umpo L'Italiano" and she replies that she's from “Jersey” FABULOUS lunch…. NO printed menu, just daily specials. The place is filled with locals, workmen, and the food spectacular. At the end of the lunch we watch in amazement at the table next to us, an older gentleman drinking from what we learn to be is a Porron. They see us gawking, and insist we share the wine from their Porron: , a lovely sweet dessert wine. (The narrow tip allows drinking from the Porron without touching lips to it, and so the "sharing" is safe, traditional, and a bit fun. I don't remember a day so full of rich experience in my life. The Day does end though. We're once again in Salou, as mentioned previously with a fabulous Tapas Dinner in the company of new friends Franco, Maite and our hosts Emilio & Elena. What an end to a life-changing day. We were happy tired Americans seen here in front of one of the royal family's homes in Salou:
So here we were......about 18 hours after a plane took us out of Portland, Emilio was our host getting to the Hotel Gaudi: After a check-in, a shower, we're off to explore Reus. We see dozens of beautiful old buildings like this one: Plus all things mentioned in the introductory post. But, the afternoon's nearing 5:00 pm....... As soon as Elena is free from her presentation at the Science Conference, they inform us we are to be dinner guests at Franco & Maite's private home in Salou, another historic city, and on the beach! WHAT? OUR FIRST night in Spain, and someone has invited us to join along with their friends at their own home for dinner? I was astounded! Well, sure enough, We were dinner guests of Franco and Maite in their fabulous home in Salou, a seemingly mammoth tourist/resort/beach/hotel/hiking tourist destination. Although not actually ON the beach (a good thing with all the tourists), we were in their beautiful home with wrap-around terraces, and beautiful appointments on the interior. Could this really be true? Our first night, and we were to feel at HOME in this intimate setting? YES, for our remaining time in this fabulous spot in Spain, we were to find out just what it is like living the good life with people who are living it. I couldn’t believe it. We were warmly welcomed, escorted to the large terraces, seated, and immediately presented a welcome toast of wine along with the first of what became 6 Appetizer courses in a meal that extended past midnight. Yep, another practice we learned to enjoy: 3-5 hour meals of relaxation and conversation among friends.....not a bad way to live. FOOD Courses are presented in order in this part of the world. For the first 3-4 hours, one is brought into a comfort stage where friendship is all that seems important in life as you enjoy things like: *Manchego Cheeses – The cheese on that lovely tomatoey snack is a true Spanish Cheese, and the one we were given was made locally. *An antipasti Plate of Coppa Mista, Salami, Chorizo, Hams in such pristine condition, I felt like I was eating these delicacies for the first time in my life. Fabulous. *Breads, toast points one rubs the raw tomato into these fresh toast points, and simply appreciates truly freshly made food. *There was much more This course of appetizers began at 6:30 and ended about 10:15 when Maite arrived home to greet us all…..and greet she did. Fabulous. DINNER began….. *Orchiette Pasta with a fresh tomato reduced sauce. *Dessert: Fresh local seasonal fruit: Cherries. Late night aperitifs ……. It was now after 1:00 and we took off for the hotel feeling we’d made new “best” friends. Does it show: These people were as warm and welcoming as any I’ve met in my life. Even the NEXT night, they took us all to their favorite Tapas Bar where another 3-4 hours passed into late evening and good times. Now THAT is the way to begin a vacation! IT IS the way this trip experience continued...............rich surprises of friendship. IT proved language is not a true barrier to our common humanity.
Writing about something that often left me speechless is difficult. I cannot communicate how much this trip has been a life changer. MORE than anything, I am SURE that being AWAY from tourist traps, out of the tourist crowds, and having friends FROM Spain/Italy be our hosts (read: being treated as an insider while you explore strange villages), has made this experience unique. I just don't think many Americans get to experience Europe this way unless they are visiting family when they go. This was fantastic. **Pictures are still being reviewed.............there are many. A little background: For some ten years now, we've often traveled with a little fella named Ranger Gus. He was found just sitting on a shelf 10-12 years ago in the Buchart Gardens gift shop in Victoria, BC while we were traveling with Aunt Paula. We saw this smartly dressed bear-guy in the gift shop. We touched his tummy and he said, "Hi! I'm Ranger Gus!". We touched it again, and he said, "Are you ready for adventure?" That was it. From then on, he's been with us, and in keeping with a promise to Paula since she can't go with us often, we take him and as a result, he just may show up in a picture or two. Here he was pre-trip begging NOT to be put in a damn bag again: Yep, he flew in the baggage area, but he's pretty calm and patient. I will only be able to write about a few bits a day............... I'm still catching up on what Oregon means in summer: work. It's berry season NOW! This is what the garden looked like when we left (I thought it really looked "full"): Oh well. Leading up to our departure, Mac seemed to get a little clingy. I'm sure we were acting different, getting things cleaned up, packed, but he did cling to us more than normal, at least until David and Serafina arrived with his two pals, Abby & Glinda. They had come from Alameda with plans to stay here with their pups taking care of Mac and enjoying life (I hoped) while we traveled. Sounds perfect for us and Mac. Despite a few hiccups getting them set up, we were driven to the airport June 2 and with no problems, were soon on a Lufthansa Airbus to Frankfurt, DE where we'd transfer to another Lufthansa flight into Barcelona. Barcelona would be our destination vacation for the first 4 days. Lufthansa's a nice airline. MORE leg room it seems to me, and they didn't seem to leave you alone for long. Two hot meals, drinks anytime, snacks, I thought they did a good job making a 12 hour flight bearable. OH yes, don't forget that twice, they pass around hot damp soft cloths to help one get a fresh look at things. Nice touch. We enjoyed looking at Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland from the windows. Frankfurt's a mammoth hub for Lufthansa, and some concourses are connected by "tunnels" underneath that can cut down your walking by a lot. This was a fun maze to get through..........one could easily get lost. This was my first eye-opener here: Americans get so pompous about their place in the world. We should have gotten over our empire feel a long time ago. That was my first time I saw 10-12 747's of India Air passengers traveling the world. Half of our Barcelona plane were India/Pakistani folk, all with plenty of money to enjoy the world. Next biggest crowd it seemed were the Scandinavians. Hundreds. I felt poor watching lots of these folk celebrating life, enjoying life seemingly very easily. I still had not quite internalized what Barcelona really is: a city of 5 million passionate Catalunyans, and their city has become a truly destination hot spot for people from round the world. The plane from Frankfurt to "BCN" was another airbus nearly as large as the transatlantic vehicle. The flight was beautifully smooth, and moreso, beautifully memorable because of the sights! We flew over Italy’s Lake Como District seeing Geneva, and the mounaints around it. We saw the South of France, flew out over the Mediterrean for my first life view of it. As we approach BCN, we can see the real size of this city and picked out a few historic sites from the air as we approached. Flying fatigue seemed to vanish. We landed, and despite the 200_+ people on the plane, luckily saw our own luggage come out on the ramp early. We approached Customs with a dread remembering the new Bush & Cheney “homeland security” procedures in America. The handsome Spanish guard saw us, asked where from, we said America, he said, “Welcome to Espana” and we were through. My English must have been SO excellent, he had no recognition of my suspicious past. We were on our WAY! We lugged the stuff a couple blocks to the train that took us to mid-town connections for the real train that would take us to Reus. Reus is to be the city we visit for our first 3-4 days because Elena & Emilio, our hosts, are there for a science conference, and wanted to show us Espana outside of the tourist grasp. Anyway, at the big train depot, there were NO clear signs or indications of what concourse, track that would happen. We asked personnel who directed us to Line 9. At line 9 again, no indication that this train would be going to Reus so we didn’t board. For the 3rd time, I approach someone to ask, “Habla English?” This time the handsome person responded with a British accent saying, “You can speak English.” Well, HE didn’t know anymore than we, it appeared HE was traveling to Sitges for a gay weekend at the beach. That wouldn’t help us. So THAT was our first realization we were truly in a foreign country. We made a quick adjustment, learned how to ask things, and then we're on our way. Once in Reus, we called to find Emilio at the hotel waiting for us. He walked to the station to meet us and we walked through the heart of this old merchant city to the Hotel Gaudi and checked in, showered off the long travel hours to find oueselves newly rejuvenated. So without pause, Emilio walked us around our narrow streets to see the our first very old Cathedral actually relatively new for this area, only 400 years old. Beautiful pristine condition….. We made a stop at one of he and elena’s favorite Tapas Bar for iced coffee, then to La Biandi, to find his old friend Mauro, an Italian running his own business in Spain and living with his girlfriend of 8 years....yes, just a tiny bar, coffee shop, and all-round gathering place for “friends”. Fabulous. Here we meet another of Emilio's old friends: Franco, (he and wife Maita are their old dear friends) So it is that our new European experience has begun! But little did we know that the day was NOT nearly over. The night had big surprises for us in this exotic old city. With Ranger Gus happily out of the bag, he immediately began to enjoy his trip abroad: By the way, THIS is how the garden looked last week on the day we got home: We're STILL trying to give away lettuce.......I could NOT believe how it changed in two weeks.
Ranger Gus (**), Imperial Knight of the Odd Table has been returned to Portland with his merry band of men. He has declared the crusade to Spain and Italy a victorious conquest of both celebrated wonderful foods and the hearts of some very civilized Europeans who will from henceforth be called friends. Sir Rodger, Celt/French senior knight in charge of the compass-that-finds-ancient-castles, and Sir Marco, very senior Goth/Swisss knight in charge of artisan ristorante selections, have successfully brought the royal Gus home from this decisively victorious adventure. They arrived back at the Scuff Castle in Portland to the whistling, hooting, and chirping of the bird and squirrel population, who have now doubled in numbers due to reproducing quietly while the knights were gone. Further bits about the crusade are awaiting arrival of ink for the scribe as well as our artist-in-house to create images of many treasured sites that were visited. There are grand thank yous to be given immediately to those who made the crusade a complete success: Thanks to the visiting House of Sands/Preston for caring for the home and animals while we were away! They succeeded in not only keeping all of the estate gardens alive, but helped them increase in size and value. Somehow the birds they were caring for have doubled in numbers! MANY THANKS! Thanks to the Royal Family who hosted our visit: Time spent with Elena and Emilio at their home, and meeting many of their many fans and admiring friends, has truly been a life-changing experience. Without their being with us, the DEPTH of this experience could NOT have happened. MORE soon on this truly intense and rich experience (it was beyond a vacation) soon. Rodger's going through lots of pictures of everything, and I'm trying to get my little diary notes enhanced a bit. In the meantime, we're catching up on some home duties. TODAY, we made our first batch of Fresh Strawberry Freezer jam. Yum. **Ranger Gus: Some years ago, while on our trip with Aunt Paula to Victoria, BC, we happened on a little fur bear called Ranger Gus who says TWO things: 1) Hi! I'm Ranger Gus! 2) Are you ready for adventure? SINCE that time, Ranger Gus has accompanied us on a few trips where he's appeared in a few pictures, sometimes in that "find Ranger Gus" mode. We've always exchanged these pictures with Aunt Paula. Well, THIS time, Gus made it all the way through Europe with us, and he has things to say! ===
AS I prepare to travel..........odd rambling silliness is going through my brain: **WHAT IS WITH the right-wing Republicans? They just seem to out-bash one thing after another led by someone who, frankly, is a bit insane, read, Limbaugh. Cheney isn't a complete human being himself: But the REAL annoyance is that the media gives voice to the nut jobs. I can't believe in the conservative camp there aren't more reasoned voices, who can discuss something calmly without sounding insane. But NO, we have to keep seeing mikes being given to Michelle Bachman, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Jason Cheffetz (Utah's little insane gem), O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Hannity, and I don't have the time to go on. I realize NO politician tells truth really, but these people give you completely made-up baloney every day, all day. They have NEVER made a one-sentence concise clear statement about anything. I can't wait to see what they actually give birth to for a 2012 campaign. But on to better things: 1. Ain't it something! WE got married in Portland, OR in April 2004. Fabulous. It was annulled in August. We registered as DP's when it came round, so now have to file duplicate tax forms to satisfay (yep, satisfay for us) the "authorities", although we have few other marital rights, and NO federal rights. BUT: Friends Jim and John live in Las Vegas, traveled to California and got married last year. They will REMAIN legally married as far as CA is concerned, but not Nevada. I wonder what they gain out of this and do they file mixed Tax returns? THIS WHOLE REALITY of messing with our ability to live normal lives is pathetic. 2. If they want the gays to stop having sex, let 'em get married. 3. DID the Democrats once again get quiet about the pursuit of Torture suspects (read: Dick Cheney) because they WERE involved in this more than we know? 4. At WHAT age did you start packing a little mini-baggy of vitamins if you travel? I used to laugh at my now-dead parents about their big Vitamin containers. Now I have all the same things. 5. I listened to the Glatolitic Mass by Janacek and cried. IT IS because I have NOT listened to ANY music for months. MUSIC is IN my soul. Note to self: GET the music ear goin again......... It's the equivalent of yoga to me. 6. I got what I bargained for. It appears 4-5 of the 14 pair of Evening Grosbeaks are here to stay. They're already paired off. The Question is: What's this gonna cost you in seed? I'm NOT complaining, only curious. 7. Master Mole Champion MAC: YET another mole captured yesterday. This time, though, he took to playing with it since he was clean and dry. I looked out the window just as he gave it a masterful toss sending it spinning. Guiltily I laughed, but did hurry out to put an end to the, er, harsh interrigation techniques. I do NOT know WHEN Cheney got to Mac with this training regimen. 8. WHAT IS THIS MYSTERY ALLIUM? We obviously got it at a plant sale last year, and when it seeded, I spread some of them, but haven't a CLUE just what it is except, it is, obviously, in the onion family: 9. Our wood supply fit the season. THIS is what's left in the shed: **Note to self: I wonder where next year's house warming fires will come from. If we buy, it will be the first we've had to since we moved here. oh well........back to the to-do list.