My Last Vacation

My summer was tranquil, spent mainly working around our house in Burgundy. But we did take a short driving trip to Spain.

Leaving Burgundy in the east of France, the first stop was in the Herault region in the southwest to see my wife’s cousin. I had never driven on this stretch of the A75 so to come upon the Millau Viaduct, the tallest bridge in the world, was a wonderful surprise. It was designed by the British architect Norman Foster. I don’t like his famous building designs at all, but this viaduct is spectacular.

The spectacular Millau Viaduct with its towers taller than the Eiffel Tower.

The village of Salasc is a lovely oasis of stone buildings and vineyards in the larger setting of dry rugged terrain reminiscent of what you see in a spaghetti western. Driving across France, it is amazing to see the tremendous change in terrain and climate over short distances. For example, on another trip years ago we drove through the Camargue (the delta of the Rhone river), a flat, hot, marshy region with pink flamingos; i.e., Florida to Salasc, i.e., the foothills of the Rockies in Colorado. The trip within the US would take at least two days by car. The journey from the Camargue to the Herault takes about two hours depending on the traffic around Montpellier. France is situated between three major bodies of water, La Manche (the English Channel), the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and two mountain ranges, the Alps and the Pyrenees (with several other smaller ranges of hills). Major weather patterns include air masses arriving from the Atlantic (all winter it is rainy), from Scandinavia, or from Africa. I never get tired of the French countryside. All of this greatly affects everything about France including the economy, culture, politics, even the language (see Fernand Braudel: The Identity of France:Volume One: History and Environment This book will be a great treat for anyone who has, or would like to, travel around France.).

In lovely Salasc the cousin lives with his wife and daughter in an old village house formerly owned by a family of vignerons (wine makers). He is an extremely well cultured man, who loves his fine objects, everyone chosen with care for its quality and beauty, including the house itself and its small garden. It was a pleasure to spend time with him as he explained his knowledge on all of these things.

The next day we continued south and west into Spain where the A9 turns into the AP-7 and continues down to Barcelona. I described our uneventful crossing of the border in my last post for LRC.

The AP-7 in Catalonia, Spain; from the French border to Barcelona. The zoom on the right is of the Cap de Creus Peninsula near Figueres.

Barcelona includes an old Gothic city built on faith, a modern city built on capitalism, and a resort city based on wonderful beaches. Also of note, it is the capital city of Catalonia. But it is perhaps best known as the city of the architect Antonio Gaudi.

The Gothic quarter consists of narrow, winding passages now full of boutiques and restaurants. The modern (1880-1920) core of Barcelona has wide avenues and the art nouveau jewels of Gaudi and his contemporaries. We did not enter any of his buildings (it is expensive at 30€/person) but could enjoy the facade of Casa Batlló from outside. We stayed near the  Arc de Triomf, the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair. The arch crosses over the wide central promenade of the Passeig de Lluís Companys, leading to the Ciutadella Park that now occupies the site of the world fair. The architectural tradition of Barcelona continues to grow; outside the city center there are several ultramodern tall buildings that I saw on a previous professional trip to Barcelona. Within easy walking distance of all of this culture is a beach resort. We spent one warm afternoon in and out of the sea.

Everything outside of the Gothic quarter was in spirit an homage to capitalism. Gaudi’s houses were designed for rich merchants. His Park Güell was part of a failed housing development. We walked through the Place de Catalonia, but no government building  struck my mind. Of special note is that the Arc de Triomf did not celebrate a military victory, but the capitalistic prosperity of Catalonia.

Gothic Barcelona, the cathedral and its environs.

The art nouveau in Barcelona, Gaudi’s Casa Batlló and the Palau de al Musica.

The Arc de Triomf and a relaxing beer after a day of sightseeing in a small square with a monastery and the contorted but cooling and friendly trees of Barcelona.

Leaving Barcelona we drove back up the AP-7 to the Cap de Creus peninsula. On our way out of the city we drove by the greatest Gaudi creation, the great church La Sagrada Familia. Work on it has continued for over 100 years with the hope for completion in 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death.

La Sagrada Familia

Our hotel on the south of the peninsula was outside of the town of Roses. After check-in, lunch, a swim and a siesta we drove north to see the Medieval monastery Sant Pere de Rodes. The drive to reach the monastery and its incredible site overlooking the fishing/tourist town of El Port de la Selva is breathtaking. The juxtaposition of Sagrada Famila and Sant Pere de Rodes is stark; medieval versus modern, city versus country, still under construction versus a ruin just rebuilt in the last few years. Yet both are great examples of the perseverance of the faith. After our visit to the monastery we drove down all of the steep hairpin turns to El Port de la Selva for shopping and a seafood dinner.

The monastery Sant Pere de Rodes and the view of El Port de la Selva from the monastery.

I don’t recall seeing any Spanish flags but I did see many flying the Catalonian colors like these along the beach in El Port de la Selva. Sunset there before dinner.

My wife wisely read a guidebook about Cadaqués, the toney town on the east of the peninsula. We arrived early to first visit the Cap de Creus itself north of the town. There is a lighthouse there surrounded by dry rugged hills that are a national park. At the lighthouse the wind was howling. An old Kirk Douglas film, The Light at the Edge of the World, was made there. That title evokes the feeling. Yet, there is a nice cafe there. My daughter had two servings of banana bread with whipped cream. I agreed that it was delicious. From our parking on the outskirts of the town it was a 15 minute walk to the center. Along the way is the little fishing village Port Lligat, where Salvador Dalí kept a home. I mentioned my wife’s wise reading of the guidebook because the small town gets crowded and parking is scarce. For this reason we left about noon and observed an enormous traffic jam for those entering Cadaqués.

Even my poor photography can evoke this perfect Mediterranean scene below the Cap de Creus.

Our last evening in Spain we ate dinner in Roses, a beach resort that would be more recognizable to Americans. Las III Caravelas (The 3 Caravels, a type of boat) is located just off the beach in a busy pedestrian lane. The dinner was memorable for the sangria (I loved the hint of vanilla), the food, the warm reception, and most of all the chef who seemed to enjoy talking to guests as much as creating his dishes. He was a thin, bald headed Tunesian who ordered shots of limoncello to our table to entice us to wait around after dinner to talk to him.

In these few lines I am trying to evoke a sense of the tremendous natural beauty, but also the beauty brought by human effort over the centuries to this corner of Europe. Man (the species) is clearly not a blight (except perhaps in the traffic jam at Cadaqués), but can work in harmony with nature to achieve a greater result. This fundamental understanding was evident throughout our trip.

I have titled this post “My Last Vacation” as a joke based on the fact that I will be retired in a matter of days; thus, I cannot take another vacation from work. But perhaps all of us will have much fewer travel opportunities in the future because of economic hardships and the powers-that-be who do not like the hoi polloi seeing the world (too much carbon). How many trips will we be allowed in the future?

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