Days 5 and 6: Barcelona Airport and Granada

Day 5

We started out yesterday very early so we could drop off the rental car and get to our flight at the Barcelona airport.  Our hosts at the lovely hotel served us breakfast before we left.  It was quite the drive over the hills (mountains) to get to the freeways that took us to Barcelona airport.  Unfortunately, on the way we got a message saying our flight had been cancelled.  At the airport we stood in line for a long time to see what the next move was.  The next flight out was at 8:30 pm!  The airline gave us vouchers for lunch and dinner in the airport, and we were allowed to use a VIP lounge.  The lounge was really just a large room with tables and hard chairs, but it was quieter than the main area and there was free coffee and soft drinks.  We were not unhappy to have a quiet day although it would have been nice to get to Granada earlier.

We finally arrived at the hotel close to midnight.  It is in a old part of town and the road are very narrow and confusing.  But our beds were comfy!  

Day 6

Another early start to the day!  I had booked timed entry tickets for Alhambra a World UNESCO heritage site.  It is a massive royal residence and court complex, and includes a substantial fortress too. It was on the top of my list of things to do in Spain, so we got up at 6:15 and found a bit of breakfast and caught a bus up to the monument.  The timed entry was for the Nasrid palaces: three palaces built for different Sultans in the 1300s.  

The plasterwork, tile and general layout was exquisite.  The whole complex is under constant restoration, and it was interesting to see just how much work goes into this sort of restoration. When the Catholic monarchs conquered the area in 1452, it became a Christian court.  In the intervening centuries different kings and architects build over the original Nasrid buildings. 

We got there before it opened at 8:30, so we all had a short night.  Laura was a little out of sorts, but warmed up to it after a while.  She seemed to really like the Alcazaba area which was the fortifications.  The views were spectacular!

We arrived around 8 and were let into the complex at 8:30, so by 11:30 Laura was done (even after we fed her ice cream).  The temperature was somewhere in the range of 35C so I was sympathetic.  There was one more area I wanted to see, so we parked Laura on a shaded bench and did a quick march around the Generalife area which had some spectacular views.

We we all pretty exhausted, so we took the bus back to the hotel and found some lunch.  (We were *very* happy we didn’t try to drive — the roads up to Alhambra were extraordinarily narrow and steep!)

Lunch was fun. We went into Restauranted El Molina, and had a two course lunch (with cervesa of course) of traditional dishes.   These included gazpacho, sal morejo (a cold tomato cream soup with iberica ham and grated hard-boiled egg on top), and Ensalada Morena (or at least that’s what I think it was called — a potato salad with mayo, egg, orange, olives, peppers, raisins, and I’m not sure what else.  For my main dish, I had fried anchovies which tasted a bit like fish and chips.  The best part was the waiter helping us to say Spanish phrases and trying really hard to explain things in English.  It was a kind of hole-in-the-wall restaurant, but it still had beautiful tile up the wall.

After a nap, we left Granada and spent 2 hours driving through acres and acres of olive trees (and high-speed rail infrastructure) enroute to Ronda.  

We thought that we might as well spend the hottest part of the day in an air conditioned car, but the AC could barely keep up.  Irving said the car temperature read 39C at one point.  We got to Ronda around 6:30, checked into the hotel and drove around for a while trying to find parking.  We ate dinner in another typical Spanish square surrounded by restaurants, and then went for a walk to the bull-fighting arena and the cliff area.  By this time the temperature had moderated somewhat and was probably just below 30C.

The bull-fighting arena.

The view from the cliffs.

The square that we ate dinner ate after our walk. We ate at the restaurant in the far left corner.  There are many people on the streets at 9:30-10pm in Spain because the temperatures are tolerable again!


Day 4: Morning of nerves, afternoon of relaxation

In the morning we discovered that breakfast was included in our package.  Somehow the coffee in Spain is really good.  Breakfast was what we would call a continental breakfast, but with ibérica ham and sausage.  We arrived at the theatre with plenty of time before the competition.  Today the competition was for children’s choirs specifically.  There were 5 entrants, and from my point of view it was tough to choose among the top three.  The TCC came in second and it seemed like it was really a subjective call.  I think the TCC showed more skill and control, but the winning choir from NYC put on more of a show.  The TCC sang extremely well, and we were very proud of them!  It was fun being with other parents and we sat with the choir staff so we got to visit with them a bit.

After the competition, there was a “concert” where several choirs sang and one of the folk dance groups performed.  At the end they presented the awards.  Oddly, I was really nervous throughout, but it was great to see the choir perform, and it was great to chat with Ellen again briefly.

We didn’t finish at the theatre until close to 3pm, and after we saw the choir off, we wandered to the main square with another family (the Reads) to get some lunch.   We ended up sitting there for 2 hours because we were in the shade and the tapas and cervesas were good.

Of course we ended the afternoon with gelato.  They make a dark chocolate gelato here (Xocolata negra) that is darker than anything I’ve ever had in Canada, and very tasty!

We got back to the hotel around 6pm and went for a swim. We ate dinnner here which was great because we got to relax and drink some wine without worrying about driving. The food was quite good, but the best part was the chef and how charming he was. 

We will get to bed a little earlier tonight because we have a morning flight to Granada tomorrow, so we have to drive to Barcelona which is only about an hour away.

Before I sign off, I’ll add a couple of pictures from Vic.  It is famous for the Roman temple, and we saw an old bridge nearby the old city walls.

Day 3: Another day another Catalonian city

We left Girona this morning after a quick breakfast of cafe lon leche, fresh orange juice, and “minis” (small ibérica ham and cheese sandwich).  It took us an hour to drive to Vic where our first stop was the Cantonigros festival.  The TCC competed in the Folk music section today.  Each choir sang for 12 minutes (plus clapping and on and off) and there were 14 choirs, so it was a long session.  Most of the choirs were quite good.  I was a little surprised how nervous I was.  Our choir sang very well!  In the end they received 4th place.  (I’d have put them at least in 3rd.)

After the competition, we tried to find lunch.  After our terrific experience in Girona where we regularly found someone who spoke enough English, finding a restaurant and ordering food was a little more challenging.  In the end we waited a little longer, but had a good meal.  Next stop was the hotel.  We booked a place that is about 15 minutes out of town and sounded charming.  After a very narrow winding road, we arrived at a 19th century villa.  We walked in the front door and found the chapel, the library and the kitchen, but no one to help.  After about 5 mintues, someone came out and through our halting communication, we figured it out.  Laura was particularly excited to see the pool, and we both had a refreshing dip.

We drove back into town for the evening concert.  The TCC was there observing, but didn’t sing.  As they were leaving, I was able to walk out with Ellen and chat for a couple of minutes.  Not surprisingly, Ellen is having a great time and is well.  I didn’t have enough time to hear anything else, but it was great to see everyone smiling.

The concert started at 7pm and we left at the intermission at 8:45!  Restaurants are open late here so we went for dinner after we left the concert.  It was another adventure in translating, but Laura had the “best crepe I’ve ever had” and we had no complaints about our meal.  We are also on day 3 of our gelato streak.  We had to work a bit harder today because we tried to find a place after dinner and only found a frozen yogurt type place.  Irving and I had fruit bars that seemed to be mainly frozen fruit purée. 

We had a nice surprise waiting for us at the villa on our return.  They were having a burnt rum tasting on the terrace. The chef poured dark rum into a bowl and lit it on fire.  When it reached the right consistency, he quenched the flame and served us.  Some of the sugars had caramelized, so it was a lovely flavor.  It was fun to sit on the terrace with other guests.  We had a nice chat on the way out with a couple of men from Belgium.  It seemed that two of the couples there had a Toronto connection.  I’m jealous of their ability to converse in multiple languages.

Now, I’m sitting on our little terrace, looking at the stars in the cool breeze.  I’m definitely going to want to sleep in tomorrow!

(Here is the view from our terrace.)

(I’m having trouble getting pictures in tonight, so I’ll try again tomorrow.)

Day 2: Missed exits, a trip to the beach, and lots of steps

The day didn’t start well.  We slept in longer than intended thanks to the jet lag, and then had a bit of trouble getting out of town. The biggest problem was taking the wrong exit and ending up on the toll highway.  Fortunately, they didn’t charge us when we got off at the very next exit. So we didn’t get to the coast until 12:30.  Fortunately, the day was overcast and not too hot, so it wasn’t a problem to be at the beach in the middle of the day.  

We picked the beach because it has a view of a castle.  (After we got there, we found out the “castle” was built in 1935 as a private residence.)  Still it was a nice little beach that wasn’t too busy.  We heard French, Catalan, Spanish, German and English while sitting on the beach.  It was a completely different experience than beaches in Perth — almost no surf, very coarse (almost pebbly) sand, and rocks everywhere.  

We walked around the hill that the “castle” was on — the first of the many steps. Laura almost refused to do it, but of course she has an easier time doing all those stairs than I do.  When we got to the top of the hill, we found the archeological site of the Iberia village of Turó Rodó that was established around 200BC.  Because many things close in the middle of the day, we weren’t able to go in.

After the obligatory gelato, we made it back to Girona quite quickly. Laura stayed at the hotel, while Irving and I set out to walk around the old city walls, Passeig de la Muralla.  It was fairly long (about 2km) and lots of stairs, but well worth it for the views.  The first walls were built by the Romans in 1st century BC.  They were rebuilt in the 14th century.

For dinner we found a Basque restaurant called Zanpanzar where we had Pintxos.  The counter at the restaurant was covered with plates of bread with various toppings.  We just picked the ones we wanted and they charged us by the number of toothpicks on the plate.  It was pretty tasty.

We loved the old town look, with its narrow cobblestone streets and tall buildings.  We felt like it might be a bustling medieval town with everyone hard at work, hanging up washing, baking, horses walking down the street, people throwing their slop pails into the street…  Or we imagined a James Bond chase on motor cycles through narrow lane ways and up and down steps.  There was one place that looked just like Diagon Alley from Harry Potter.

We made it!

Our flight was pleasantly uneventful except that none of us slept very much.  We arrived in Barcelona around 8:45 in the morning.  Figuring out how to get to the rental car was a bit of a challenge and it turned out that using expedia to book the car was probably not the cheapest way to go, but after a lot of waiting around we were ready to go. Our plan was to stop in the suburb/town near the airport to get some food and get phone cards so that we could use maps on our phones.  It was only a 10 minute drive, and it looked like it would have been easy to find a place to eat, but the only parking was parallel parking and there wasn’t a single spot for blocks and blocks.  Irving valiantly tried to squeeze into one spot, but in the end we bailed and got on the road to Girona.  It was an hour and a half drive so we were very hungry by the time we stopped.

The hotel in Girona is nice and the concierge helpful directed us to a good restaurant for lunch called Konig.  It was hot so we very happy to partake of the cold cervasas.

We went back to the hotel for a nap and then out for a wander (and gelato).

The red bridge in the background was designed and built by Eiffel shortly before he built his famous tower.  To the right is the old medieval town.  We walked up and down quite a few steps through narrow streets.  It was fun to imagine the streets full of people in the 12th century.

And they’re off!

The choir is now winging their way across the Atlantic.  Lots of happy excited kids.  Now we can start to think about our own preparations.  The first picture is Ellen with her chaperone group. (Somehow one of the kids didn’t quite make it into the photo.). I know Carol and John Stairs will be great chaperones, and they have a pretty great group.