Tag Archives: Girona

Travel Review of the Year 2013

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 3

2013 has been a good year for travel and I have managed to make a total of seven overseas trips (my record is twelve in both 2007 and 2008), starting in March with a return to Spain.

Despite the ambition to visit as much of the country as possible this was the first visit to the peninsular in nearly two years since the previous trip to Extremadura in May 2011.  Our destination this time was Castilla-La Mancha and the medieval town of Sigüenza in the Province of Guadalajara halfway between Madrid and the capital city of the Autonomous Community of Aragon – Zaragoza.

One of the reasons for choosing this small town was the desire to see one of Spain’s most famous religious festivals and by all accounts Sigüenza is a very good place to see it.  The Semana Santa is one of the most important traditional events of the Spanish Catholic year; it is celebrated in the week leading up to Easter and features a procession of Pasos which are floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion.

Turkey Postcard

One day in January when the temperature was hovering around zero and icy rain was lashing at the windows my daughter Sally called me with a travel proposal.  She had booked a holiday and the arrangements had fallen through which meant there was a spare place available that needed filling and crucially – paying for and I was being called up as first reserve.

“You will enjoy it dad, you can spend time with the grandchildren and it’s only for a week.”  I gave in quickly and asked the obvious questions of where, when and how much? “May, Torquay, only £900”. Actually I thought £900 for a week in Torquay in May was rather expensive but I agreed to it all the same and the deal was done and I started to research what there might be to do with three very young children in south Devon in early summer.

A couple of weeks or so later Sally phoned me again and said that she was applying for a passport for her new son William and although I appreciate that we are from the north I wasn’t yet aware that there were visa requirements for British citizens who wanted to travel south within the United Kingdom.  I called her back. “Why do we need a passport for William? I asked, “For the holiday, obviously”, she replied, “But we don’t need a passport for Torquay”, I smugly informed her, “Torquay? Torquay?”, she said, “who said anything about Torquay? We are going to TURKEY!”

Burgos Cathedral

In June we returned to Spain to visit the north of the country.  We started in Asturias and its capital city of  Oviedo and then drove south through Castilla y León  and visited the provincial capitals of León, Zamora, Salamanca, Avila, Segovia, Valladolid, Palencia and Burgos and that is all of them except (and I apologise for this) Soria.  It would have been just too much of a detour as we came to the end of our travels but I have promised to go back one day and apologise for this rudeness because Soria has one of the most bizarre festivals in Spain where once a year local men demonstrate their faith and fearlessness (stupidity) by walking over red hot coals!

But I have a plan to put this right because in April 2014 we plan to return to Sigüenza and I think it may be close enough to this missing city to take a day to visit.

Girona Catalonia Post Card

In July we travelled to Catalonia in north-east Spain and fell in love with the city of Girona. It is said that Girona consistently wins a Spain country-wide poll of citizens on preferred places to live and  I had a really good feeling about the city and as we sat and sipped cool beer I thought that it might be a place that I could return to.

I used to think that it might be nice to sell up and go and live abroad but as I have got older I have abandoned the idea.  The reason for this is that I wouldn’t want to end up in a British ex-pat condominium and I imagine that living outside of this would bring its own problems.  I am English not Spanish or French and my character, behaviour and whole way of life has been created from an English heritage that, even if I wanted to, I could not lay aside and become something that I am not.

But, now I have another idea.  It always annoys me when I see a poster advertising something that happened last week, before I arrived, or will take place next week, after I have gone home, so I think I could be happy to live for a while, say twelve months, in a different country so that I could enjoy everything that takes place over the course of a year in a Spanish town or city and I would be very happy to place Girona on my short list of potential places.  Before we left we walked past a famous statue of a lion climbing a pole and there is a story that if you reach up and kiss its arse then one day you will return but there was too much spit and dribble on its butt cheeks for me to take out this particular insurance policy.

France Côte d'Opale

2013 was a special birthday year for my mum as she gregariously tipped over from her seventy-ninth year to become an octogenarian and as part of the celebrations she invited my brother Richard and me to join her and her partner Alan to visit the north east corner of France and stay at at a hotel that they especially like, the Chateaux de Tourelles in the village of Le Wast, just a short distance away from one of my favourite French towns, Boulogne-Sur-Mer.

Something like ten-million British travellers arrive in Calais each year and then without looking left or right, or stopping for even a moment head for the motorways and the long drive south and in doing so they miss the treat of visiting this Anglo-neglected part of France.

Normally I have a preference for travelling by sea and always enjoy the short, weather-unpredictable, ferry crossing but they like the Eurotunnel shuttle so on this occasion we took the thirty-minute subterranean route rather than risk the choppy seas of the English Channel and the mad rush to the car deck upon docking.  It was busy at the terminal and on the following day the service set a new record for numbers of vehicles at almost sixteen-thousand. I had been through the tunnel before on Eurostar but never on the vehicle carrying train so this was a new experience for me and overall I have to say that although it is quick and convenient I think I prefer the boats and the rugby scrum.

Puglia Map

Every September since 2004 our late Summer travelling has been to the Greek Islands and it hadn’t really occurred to me that that we would break that habit and that 2013 would be the tenth year in a row, after all there are roughly one thousand four hundred of them and I have only been to about twenty-five so there are still a lot left to visit.

We were persuaded to make a change to our normal September routine when the Ryanair website offered return flights to Bari in Southern Italy for the bargain price of only £70 each (no hold luggage, no priority boarding, no pre-booked seats obviously) so we snapped them up and started to plot our way around the Italian Region of Puglia one of the least visited by tourists and most traditional areas of the country.  We have travelled to Italy several times but mostly to the north and certainly never to this part of the boot.

Iceland Postcard

For our final travels of 2013 we went north in October in search of the Northern Lights! This was a second visit to Iceland and the first since the financial crash of 2008 so there were some significant changes – mostly financial.  Six years previously I had found the country horrendously expensive but immediately after the crash the krona lost fifty percent of its value against the euro and even taking into account six years of relatively high inflation, which even now remains high at over 5%, I was rather hoping for cheaper prices this time and I was not disappointed because I estimate that the tourist cost of living was only about 65% of the costs of 2007.

We did enjoy Iceland, we had a nice hotel, found an excellent restaurant (Harry’s Bar), drove the Golden Circle and on the final night got to see the Northern Lights just as we had given up all hope of seeing the spectacular light show.  I am tempted now to return to Iceland, maybe in June and experience the midnight sun but this time I would miss Reykjavik because I have been there twice now and seen all that there is to see but I think I would hire a car and circumnavigate the island, that would be about one thousand, five hundred kilometres but I am guessing that this would be a wonderful experience.

So now thoughts turn to 2014 and the current plan  is to visit Poland (Wroclaw) in January, Sigüenza in Spain in April, possibly Ireland in June and then a holiday with my family to celebrate my sixtieth birthday in Corfu in August but obviously I hope to slip a few more holidays in between these main events!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers

Girona Coloured Houses Catalonia Spain

At the first bridge we stopped like everyone else to take pictures of the coloured houses with precarious balconies with rusty iron railings carelessly leaning out over the lazy river, shallow, fringed with reeds and with huge carp prowling the bottom searching for food and as I surveyed the scene I remembered this piece of pointless advice from a tourist guide that I had read: “…don’t attempt to jump in to the Onyar River from any of the bridges across it. In addition to being difficult to get back out of, the water simply isn’t deep enough for the height and you will sustain any number of grievous injuries upon landing.”

Read the full story…

Catalonia, Behind Closed Doors – Part Three

Catalonia Spain Door Detail

Catalonia Spain Besalu Door

 

Catalonia, Girona and Final Moments

Girona Catalonia Spain

“A Nation (and its people) is an organised community with its myths, its rituals and its ways of behaving, its common history, imagination and beliefs”  Sami Naïr (Algerian born French political philosopher)

It is said that Girona  consistently wins a Spain country-wide poll of citizens on preferred places to live and  I had a really good feeling about the city and as we sat and sipped cool beer I thought that it might be a place that I could return to.

I used to think that it might be nice to sell up and go and live abroad but as I have got older I have abandoned the idea.  The reason for this is that I wouldn’t want to end up in a British ex-pat condominium and I imagine that living outside of this would bring its own problems.  I am English not Spanish or French and my character, behaviour and whole way of life has been created from an English heritage that, even if I wanted to, I could not lay aside and become something that I am not.  So I am happy with life now, I agree with Sami Naïr and I do not yearn for something different and let’s face it lots of people across the World would be pleased to be able to live in the United Kingdom.

But, now I have another idea.  It always annoys me when I see a poster advertising something that happened last week, before I arrived, or will take place next week, after I have gone home, so I think I could be happy to live for a while, say twelve months, in a different country so that I could enjoy everything that takes place over the course of a year in a Spanish town or city and I would be very happy to place Girona on my short list of potential places.  Later we walked past a famous statue of a lion climbing a pole and there is a story that if you reach up and kiss its arse then one day you will return but there was too much spit and dribble on its butt cheeks for me to take out this particular insurance policy.

After we had finished our drinks we went next to the archaeological gardens and walked a section of the city walls but it was intensely hot on the exposed high level walkway so we didn’t do anything like all of it, maybe about half,  just enough to admire the views over the city and towards the Pyrenees to the north and then returned to the welcome shade of the narrow streets.  They were good walls but in my opinion not as good as Ávila in Castilla y León or Dubrovnik in Croatia.

Girona Coloured Houses Catalonia Spain

We crossed the river again several times and then on the western side we came across the Plaça de la Independència, which, for the time being anyway, has nothing to do with the current separatist movement but celebrates the War of Independence against Napoleon Bonaparte.

Geographically the city is in an exposed and precarious position and over the course of history Girona has endured as many as twenty-five sieges which gives it the distinction of being one of the most besieged cities in all of Europe.

Especially by the French!

It was set upon by the royal armies of France under Charles de Monchy d’Hocquincourt in 1653, under Bernardin Gigault de Bellefonds in 1684, and twice in 1694 under Anne Jules de Noailles. In May 1809, it was besieged by thirty-five thousand French Napoleonic troops and held out obstinately until disease and famine compelled it to capitulate on the 12th December when finally the French conquered the city after seven months of siege.

The afternoon was slipping away now so it seemed sensible to find somewhere to eat before everywhere closed down for the late afternoon siesta so we wandered back to the tourist centre and unusually for Kim selected the first place that we came across.  Unusually because normally Kim always rejects the first place on some wierd theory that the next one will be better!  Anyway, not this time and we were welcomed in, sat down and fussed over and as this was our last meal before going home thought it appropriate to select a final paella and it was a good decision because we enjoyed a good menu del dia and the main course was delicious.

And now our time in Girona was coming to an end so after settling up for our lunch we left the restaurant and walked back the way that we had come, investigating more side streets,  steps and cobbles along the way until we reached the river and took the direct route back to the bus station for the return journey to the airport hotel.

The nicest thing that I can say about the hotel was that it was convenient.  We had chosen it because on the following morning we had a seven o’clock flight back to London Luton so it made sense to stay nearby but we were glad that we had eaten in Girona because the self service restaurant food didn’t look very appetising and all in all we were glad that we were only stopping there for just one night and we were happy to wake early the next morning and make our way to the departure lounge for the early flight home.

It had been a good journey – we enjoyed our time in Catalonia and I was beginning to firm up my ideas about coming back!

Girona Catalonia

Catalonia, Girona in the Footsteps of Patrice Chaplin

Girona Coloured Houses Catalonia Spain

The airport transport bus arrived shortly after midday and took about twenty minutes to negotiate the busy roads into the centre of Girona and drop us off at the railway station where the early afternoon temperature was nudging its way towards forty degrees centigrade.

Having been once before I thought I would remember my way around but I was completely mistaken and had to ask for directions several times before I was confident of the route towards the river and the centre of the city.

For several weeks my friend Dai Woosnam had been insisting that I read a favourite book of his called ‘Albany Park’ by the author Patrice Chaplin (Chaplin interestingly because she was married Charlie’s son, Michael) which is an autobiographical story of life in Girona in the late 1950s (actually it is much more than that but it seemed right to read it because I was visiting the city) so I started it before I travelled and finished it appropriately in the very city where the story is set.

Writing about a visit to the coast Patrice wrote: “We waded out at the edge of the sea to a fishing village and it was so lovely we promised to go back and stay. When I did go there, ten years later it was unrecognisable.  Only the name remained of what was once so exquisite” and she could probably just as easily been writing about Girona because here in the commercial part of the city the roads were busy, people were rushing and the shops were brash but as we approached the river Onyar and the characteristic Jewish quarter I like to think that we came across something timeless and also something that she would certainly be able to recall.

It is a very good book and just like Dai I recommend everyone to read it.

Catalonia Door Detail Girona

At the first bridge we stopped like everyone else to take pictures of the coloured houses with precarious balconies with rusty iron railings carelessly leaning out over the lazy river, shallow, fringed with reeds and with huge carp prowling the bottom searching for food and as I surveyed the scene I remembered this piece of pointless advice from a tourist guide that I had read: “…don’t attempt to jump in to the Onyar River from any of the bridges across it. In addition to being difficult to get back out of, the water simply isn’t deep enough for the height and you will sustain any number of grievous injuries upon landing.”

So resisting the temptation to dive in to cool down in we walked on into the narrow streets of the old town looking for some shade instead.

The old town is packed onto a hillside alongside the river, which is spanned by a series of  bridges that lead to the shopping area. We started along the pedestrianised shopping street of Carrer Argenteria then up the narrow, cobbled Carrer de la Força, which, it’s hard to believe was once part of the Via Augusta, the road that led across Spain from Rome, and from the tenth to the end of the fifteenth century was the main street of one of Europe’s most important Jewish quarters.

Climbing all the time we stopped frequently and took frequent and sometimes pointless diversions into side streets and blind alleys, up steep steps and along difficult cobbled passageways. We were grateful for the shade and I searched all the time for the Girona of Patrice Chaplin and in this labyrinth of lanes like a spider’s web I was almost certain that we were somewhere close.

Eventually and inevitably we arrived in the square in front of Santa Maria Cathedral whose Baroque façade conceals an austere Gothic interior that was built around a previous Romanesque church, of which the cloisters and a single tower remain.  We found the energy to climb the steps from the square to the Cathedral but once there Kim declined the opportunity to go inside and left me to visit the interior of the building alone and see the World’s widest Gothic nave and the second widest overall after St. Peter’s in Rome.

To a certain extent I understand Kim’s opinion that one Cathedral is very much like any other and I wouldn’t be able to argue with that point of view and cite Girona as an example that she is mistaken but I enjoyed the walk around the chapels and the cloister and the museum which took about thirty minutes before I was back in the searing heat of the afternoon sunshine and it was time for a short break and an Estrella so we walked back towards the river paying attention to restaurant menus as we went because we planned to eat later and then found a little bar with pavement tables in the shade and we stopped for a rest.

Girona Catalonia Spain Cathedral

Catalonia, An Empty Fuel Tank and some Car Hire Tips

Catalonia Ceramic Tile Map

This was our final day in Catalonia and the original plan was to pack our bags into the boot (trunk) of the car and drive to Girona and put it in a car park for the day but as I told you earlier the car we had been allocated didn’t have a boot (trunk), so still fearful of being robbed, we changed our plans and drove directly to our final hotel at Girona airport to leave our bags and to return the vehicle.

I was still annoyed by the car hire scam of selling me an overpriced tank of fuel and challenging me to bring it back empty so I was determined that I would do exactly that.  When we left Besalú the trip computer told me that we had enough fuel for about sixty kilometres and I calculated that the airport was just slightly less than that so with a feather like foot on the accelerator (gas) pedal and with the air-conditioning system turned off we tip-toed our way sedately to Girona.

Our walking pace drive irritated local drivers now and again and once I was almost tempted to visit a fuel station and buy a thimble full of diesel but I resisted the moment of temporary self doubt and just kept going trying to shut out the nagging reminder from the dashboard controls that I should urgently refuel.

This reminded me of a holiday in Lanzarote in 1982 when six of us hired a Daihatsu jeep and when we collected it the fuel tank was practically empty.  My brother Richard was really annoyed and determined to take it back in the same state so towards the end of the hire period we pulled into a filling station:

‘Si Seňor?’

‘two hundred por favor’

‘two hondred?’ the man scratched his head and looked confused and then turning to us said, ‘two hondred – not enough room in tank!’

We looked confused but then after a short debate we realised what he meant and Richard was rather more specific –  ‘no, not litres – pesetas!’

Now this was the equivalent of about seventy-five pence so this required great precision on his part to deliver only just the required miniscule amount into the tank.  We handed him two one hundred peseta notes and he walked away shaking his head and in apparently total disbelief repeating over and over to himself ‘two hondred, two hondred…’ ‘two hondred, two hondred…’ and we fell about  and almost wet ourselves laughing.

As we got closer to the airport the fuel indicator needle dropped off of the dashboard gauge all together, the digital display said only enough fuel for ten kilometres and the refuel warning light was flashing madly like in a James Bond movie indicating only ten seconds to Armageddon but we were very close now and I was certain that I could do it so eased off the throttle even more and coasted towards the hotel.  At one stage I took a wrong turning which could have been disastrous but I quickly corrected that and gratefully pulled into the hotel car park.

We were too early to check in but the staff locked our bags away and then, as there was an hour to wait for the next bus into Girona we sat and had a beer before returning the car. When I got back into the driving seat to my horror the computer still said ten kilometres of fuel left so I took it for a ride around the airport circuit road  a couple of times until it had dropped to five and then satisfied with this achievement I took it back to the Solmar rental office and smugly handed back the keys.

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At this point I am tempted to offer some car hire advice but I cannot do better than include here a comment recently received from my friend Dai Woosnam from Grimsby:

“In the past fifteen months I have flagged-up my car hire specials to cover a month long hire in April 2012 (2 weeks in Boston, Mass, and 2 weeks in Seattle, Washington); a month long hire in Washington, DC to drive down to Daytona Beach, Florida, last August); a week’s hire in Murcia, Spain, last November; and a week’s hire in Faro, Portugal in March 2013.  I have told you that I did the following:

1. Took out FULL worldwide car rental insurance for £80 a year.

2. Hired the car via an Irish agent who took a tiny 5 euros for each booking.

3. Collected the car of my choice from the relevant airport each time.  At ridiculously cheap prices.

To give you an idea:on the last trip we got a nearly new gutsy Fiat quite capable of carrying a huge fatso like me up the steep hills of old Lisbon! and paid the guy at Faro airport, an astonishing 29 euros for 7 full days!!

So that is a TOTAL of 34 euros (about £30) INCLUDING the Irish agent’s commission!

And also you will get the car you want, plus the way you want it (collect full/return full).”

Dai writes an excellent eclectic monthly digest including great tips like these.  If you want to subscribe then write to him at DaiW@gmx.com and he will mail a regular copy.

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So, mission accomplished and feeling rather pleased with ourselves we had a second beer on the terrace of the hotel and waited the final few minutes before the scheduled time of our bus into the city of Girona.

River Houses of Gorona

Catalonia, Behind Closed Doors – Part Two

Catalonia Door DetailCatalonia Door Detail Girona

Catalonia, Behind Closed Doors – Part One

Wooden Door of Catalonia Besalu

Catalonia Wooden Door Detail

Catalonia Wooden Door Medieval Besalu

Catalonia, A Medieval Village and a Mountain Drive

Spain Girona Catalonia

Very quickly we left the busy coastal roads and started to travel inland through a succession of dusty, terracotta coloured medieval villages all closed down for the afternoon siesta and sleeping under the shadows of their ancient churches.

Interestingly, a lot of the churches in the towns and villages of Catalonia have had to undergo extensive repair and renovation because during the Spanish Civil War this was a Republican stronghold under the control of the socialists and supported by communist funding and in the struggle with the fascist, Catholic Church backed Nationalists, many churches were pillaged, vandalised and used for alternative inappropriate purposes.

We were driving now on narrow country roads through fields of golden hay bales, rolled and drying in the sun, arable fields with crops waiting to be harvested and the occasional field of glorious sunflowers and then through rice fields in semi-marshland before we climbed again and approached the fortified medieval villages that are a feature of this part of the province of Girona.

We were heading for the village of Peratallada which it turned out is a heavily visited tourist bus destination for holidaymakers having an afternoon away from the beaches but it was quiet this afternoon as we pulled into the car park and grudgingly paid the parking fee before walking into the village.

Peratallada Girona Catalonia Spain

It was nice but I couldn’t help thinking that all of a sudden I had been transported into Disney World, EPCOT World Showcase because this was an over-manicured, not a thing out of place sort of village that was beautiful to see but was hardly authentic.  The cobbled streets were immaculate, the gardens would all have won gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show and everything was groomed to perfection.  The doors and windows were highly polished, the iron balustrades all black and shiny without a hint of rust and the steps and streets that undulated gently through the village were all swept scrupulously clean.

It was mid afternoon by now and the sun was beating down relentlessly so as much as we could we kept to the shady side of the streets as we walked around the meandering alleys until we reached the tourist heart of the village with pavement restaurants, chattering bars and a few overpriced shops and that really was all there was to do in Peratallada so we strolled slowly back to the car and plotted our route back to Caldes de Malavella.

Doors of Sigüenza 5

This all looked rather straightforward on the map but what I failed to notice was that although it was only a few kilometres as the crow flies the journey involved driving over an unexpected mountain with a lot of twisting roads which increased the distance to be travelled rather considerably.  Very quickly we left the long straight roads and soon we were beginning to continuously climb through a series of sweeping hairpin bends that took us ever higher and higher into the sky.

It wasn’t very helpful either when the satnav kept losing satellite reception which I found strange because at this altitude I could almost see them!  For long periods I was driving without any assistance because having Kim as a navigator is like driving in a blindfold  and I have to try and keep calm because at the first sign of impatience from me she descends into map panic!

Eventually we reached the top, the road levelled out and we began the descent over the other side towards the town of Casa de la Selva which was waking up after the siesta and the roads were becoming busy.  At one point a beat up old truck came to a sudden and unexpected stop directly in front of me and then started to reverse into a parking spot which I was certain was far too small.  I was very close and I worried he hadn’t seen me and that later when I returned the car I might gave to explain the missing headlight and the gouge down the side so I blew my horn to warn him.  This had zero effect and he just kept coming so I did it again and then with the precision of a surgeon he slipped past the Volkswagen Caddy and manoeuvred perfectly into the parking spot and flashed me an indignant look for doubting his reverse parking abilities in the first place.

Mont St Michel Door

It was our final night in Caldes de Malavella and it was even quieter than the first two nights as we walked around the village on a hot and humid evening as black clouds raced in from the north and bullied their way into the sky.  The restaurant that we had used the first two nights was closed so we walked to Vichy Catalan where the menu prices turned us straight back around again and we ended up in a back street bar where the owner was pleased to see us and although he didn’t have a menu as such he did persuade us to sit down and he prepared an impromptu meal of cuttlefish in between serving regulars at the bar.

We had enjoyed it here but after three nights it was time to move on so before going to bed we packed our bags in preparation for leaving in the morning and driving inland to the town of Vic.

Balneario Prats Caldes de Malavella Catalonia

Catalonia, A Historic Nationality and a Car Hire Scam

Girona Catalonia Post Card

“For almost the first time I felt I was really in Spain, in a country that I had longed my whole life to visit. In the quiet back streets of I seemed to catch a momentary glimpse, a sort of far-off rumour of the Spain that dwells in everyone’s imagination.”  –   George Orwell – ‘Homage to Catalonia’

The Ryanair flight was delayed for almost an hour due to a baggage handlers dispute at Barcelona airport so it was already early afternoon when the plane landed and we descended down the steps to the tarmac and into the Province of Girona where we would be spending most of our time on this visit.

It was hot, it was humid, it was bright and I could smell Spain or to be precise I should perhaps say Catalonia or Catalunya as many of the local population would prefer because this is a region of Spain, one of the seventeen Autonomous Communities, that is fiercely nationalist and has growing aspirations of independence from Spain and Madrid.

I had been to Catalonia before but on that occasion without knowing as much as I do now; that within the Spanish Constitution it is defined as a ‘Nationality’ and enjoys significant regional autonomy (as are the Basque Country and Galicia), it has its own distinct language and is culturally very different to the Spain of Castile.  There is no mention here of El Cid or Don Quixote but rather of Antoni Gaudi and Salvador Dali and in 2012 the Catalan parliament even banned the Spanish sport of bull fighting.

Antoni Gaudi Comillas Cantabria SpainSalvador Dali Surrealist Artist with Sea Shell

A bit of quick history – Catalonia was created by Charlemagne as a buffer state to protect the northern Frankish Empire from the threat of expansion by the Moors of Iberia and like all buffer states that has meant a turbulent history, squeezed between more powerful neighbours, its borders frequently rearranged, dismantled, absorbed and passed back and forth like a serving plate at a banquet depending upon the prevailing balance of power.

In 1492 Catholic Spain was united through the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella and the new power based in Madrid favoured Seville and Cadiz over Catalonia for monopoly of the New World trade routes and sea power gradually declined; later there was conflict with Madrid again during the Thirty Year’s War and then The War of The Spanish Succession when the region seemed to have an unfortunate tendency to back the losing side and then suffer the inevitable consequences when it came to peace and settlement.

The most recent conflict came during and after the Spanish Civil War when Catalonia was one of the last Republican and Socialist areas to fall to the Nationalists of General Franco and then paid the price through years of recriminations, subjugation and suppression of its language and culture as the fascist government in Madrid set out to stamp the authority of Castile on its troublesome region.

Catalonia 2

I was hoping to learn more about this during our travels but before we could begin the journey we had to pick up the hire car.

I had booked with Solmar before and had always been pleased with them but this time there were some complications.  I had booked a small car group C vehicle but there were none available so I was told that we were being upgraded to a group B which on the face of it didn’t seem to be something to complain about but the upgraded vehicle turned out to be a Volkswagen Cabby which is a seven seater van rather than a compact car which was much bigger than we needed.

Even worse was that although it had seven seats it had no boot so there was nowhere to put our bags and coats out of sight of thieves and there was a big sticker in the window telling us not to leave bags and personal items on show – which was impossible.  We were planning to travel around of course which meant that we had an itinerary that involved stopping off now and again on route with our bags so the first thing that had to be done was a complete revision of the planned schedule.

The next thing that annoyed me was that Solmar have now introduced a ‘pick it up full, return it empty’ policy regarding fuel which means that they charge for sixty litres of fuel at an inflated price with about a 25% mark-up on the average pump price and hope that you don’t use it all so that they can then make a dishonest additional profit when charging for sixty litres of overpriced fuel to the next renter.

Actually, this is worse than dishonest – it is bordering on fraud or even theft because if they only have to put in thirty litres they charge for the full tank and in my opinion is bare-faced deception because they are billing for something they haven’t provided or incurred a cost for.  I was immediately determined that I would bring the car back with a tank so empty that I would be driving on fumes!

We weren’t going to use a lot of fuel today however because we were staying only a few kilometres from the airport at the Spa town of Caldes de Malavella just south of Girona and we arrived there quickly and without incident and as we pulled into the car park we were pleased with our choice of hotel, The Balneari Prats, which from the outside looked smart and grand.

At reception we completed the check-in formalities and then were given keys to room 101 and as we approached it down a worn out corridor I began to worry that this could just be a nightmare room.  And I wasn’t wrong because it was old and tired with heavy wooden shutters at the windows with vegetation creeping through which looked horribly like a certain home for dozens of mosquitoes.  I imagine that this could well have been a room that Orwell himself may have stayed in when on leave from fighting with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War.

There are some things that English people are not good at which include not complaining about a disappointing meal, not getting angry when people push in front at queues and not asking for a change of hotel room when it doesn’t live up to the description in the brochure.  I am exactly like this but I could tell from Kim’s demeanour that on this occasional I would have to act out of national character and ask for alternative accommodation.

Actually the hotel had an old part and a new part and getting changed was absolutely painless and simple and within ten minutes we had a modern room with a balcony for only €10 extra a night.

Balneari Prats Caldes de Malavella Catalonia