Returning to Spain–Days 19 and 20–Spain again!

7-5 – 7-6
We made it in one day from Switzerland all the way across southern France and then across the border to Spain! It feels so good to be back in Spain, where things feel familiar, we understand the menus and culture, and we can speak the language. We got very lucky on our hotel choice for tonight. We simply did a search of hotels in Figueres, where we wanted to stop, and picked one at random that had good ratings. When we arrived at 10:30 they still had rooms and the place was clean and with good A/C. At 11 we went out in search of a place still open for dinner and after striking out at two places we found one that was still open. Apparently 11 is even a bit late by Spanish standards. We had a typical Spanish dinner of jamon, patatas bravas, and croquetas.

This morning’s adventure was a visit to the Dali Museum, which was conveniently located a block from our hotel. Dali might be one of the only artists in the world with an ego big enough to design his own museum. It’s quirky and irreverant, just like his art. The central courtyard features a shiny black 1950s American car, on which a very large nude woman is standing. All the windows facing this courtyard have gold life-size sculptures of women, somewhat resembling the oscar awards. Many of Dali’s famous pieces are here, from paintings of melting clocks to the Mona Lisa with a mustache drawn on to take-offs of Velazquez’s Las Meninas. There were plenty of somewhat vulgar images of bodies doing things I don’t want to describe. You’ll have to visit yourself to find out.

As I write this we are now staying in the house of our good friend Esther, in a little town called Premia del Mar, 20 minutes north of Barcelona on the coast. We met Esther over 20 years ago when we spent a semester in Barcelona. Esther needed to practice English and we needed to practice Spanish, so we paired up and helped each other. We got to know Esther’s family and were graciously invited to their house several times for delicious meals, usually of paella cooked on their outside barbeque. Her dad, the principal of a school, was the paella chef, and he really enjoyed his food. After dinner he plied us with many “copas,” after-dinner drinks. Esther’s mother taught me to make a few Spanish dishes, including crema catalana, a dessert that is a lot like flan. Over the years we’ve kept in touch with Esther and we’ve seen here a few times in San Francisco and four years ago in Barcelona. Travel is doubly good when you can make personal connections. 

Getting to Esther’s was quite complicated. It’s only an hour or so from the Dali Museum in Figueres but her town is very compact, made up of narrow, one-way streets. Our GPS showed us where her house was, but it told us to go down a street that is for pedestrians only. We ended up circling through the city’s maze of streets many times, even backing up one time when we got stuck on a street that suddenly ended. We eventually found her house, which is a tall, narrow house of three stories built maybe 100 years ago when this was a fishing village. It has nice touches, like beautiful tile floors and a wooden staircase. There’s a pretty patio in back with an orange tree and several hydrangeas. 

Esther is now principal of the school where he father was principal. It is a beautiful school in one of Barcelona’s nicest neighborhoods. Four years ago when we lived in Spain we considered living in Barcelona and sending our kids to her school. The only problem was that all of the instruction is in Catalan. Esther told us this was not a big deal and our kids would learn both Catalan and Spanish. But we weren’t so sure a couple of monolingual Americans would be that adept. So we went to Madrid instead. It turned out to be a good decision, though it would have been fun to live in Barcelona. 

It’s just our luck that Europe is experiencing a big heat wave. Temperatures in Barcelona today were in the high 90s and it was impossible to do anything during the middle of the day. After a nice, leisurely lunch at a local restuarant, we relaxed at home with Esther’s kids and waited for her to come home from work. When she got home we went for a walk on the beach, a few blocks from her house, and saw Barcelona’s skyline in the distance. We noticed many Catalan independence flags flying in her neighborhood and wondered about the different designs. She told us it’s hard to explain…her husband Frank will tell us about it. Around 9:30 we ate dinner, a cold vichychoise soup and a stew of chicken and rabbit. The only other time I’ve eaten rabbit was in a paella in Valencia four years ago. Since we once had a pet rabbit, it is not easy for me to eat! At 11:00 we went out again for an icecream. Many other people were also still out, finally able to enjoy some lower, though not cool, temperatures.

Kids everywhere are the same. Esther’s kids are just as fond of their electronics as ours are. When we weren’t eating or strolling, all the kids had either an Ipad or phone in hand. By dinner they had all followed each other on Instagram. The world is so small! Our other common touchpoint was sports and Peter talked with them a bit about Barca and some of their players. Now it’s time to sleep. Thankfully Esther has given us one of the two rooms that have air conditioning.

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