A smooth flight, arriving at 7 am in the pitch black of a Barcelona morning. They organize their hours so that they have to sleep in and then have to stay up late. Eminently sensible! I am quickly reminded that I simply enjoy being here. I have written about what draws me, but it simply boils down to – I enjoy being here, I enjoy living in Spain, in Spanish for a few weeks.
I reserved a parador, a chain of upscale hotels for my first night, near the small city of Vic, north of Barcelona. The internet gave me the idea that it looked out over a lake. I was enthralled as I made my way up into the hills through pine forests to discover my room looked out over this.
My first post from Spain and I am going to make you suffer, or thoroughly enjoy, a delightfully bad pun, or a marvellously inventive one. Spain is crisscrossed with numerous mountain ranges, sierras, which cut through the lower valleys and isolate areas. Inevitably rivers have eaten away at the rock, digging at times deep ravines. Spain is absolutely gorge-ous! Come on, it wasn’t that bad, it was that good! A few years ago I introduced by big brother and sister-in-law to a number of them.
300 kilometres further north, I find myself in the isolated hilltop village of Roda de Isábena, a village with a Romanesque cathedral of all things, the smallest town to have one. The 300 kilometres presented regular changes in topography; pine-clad hills as if I were traveling through a national park, giving way to broad valleys with intensive cereal farming, then semi-arid areas (the mountains creating microclimates, some of which make survival tougher) with olive orchards, villages perched on rocky crags keeping a watchful eye the fields, a few vineyards. The final 30 kilometres seemed to be a continual gradual ascent through mainly scrub land but suddenly I had arrived at the edge with another broad farming valley far below me demanding of me and my car a seemingly endless series of switchbacks to reach. I now am in a comfortable and quiet room overlooking the valley, beside the cathedral. I headed off on foot back down the winding road that had brought me up to Roda in order to visit the 12th century medieval bridge below.
You can just make out the towers of Roda in the distance. According to a sign, it’s about 2 k from the bridge. Contrary information (my very own ‘fact checkers’) is persistently forthcoming from my legs and body; constantly, steadily and I almost want to say steepily, I made it back up to the village. Believe me, the accountant in me counted the steps, 3000 some. Every 100 pasos convinced me that I was making progress. And, I actually got stronger as I got farther along and closer to my goal. LIke the old grey mare knowing that the stable is the reward.
The more often I travel here, the more I am aware of the food and the way in which eating defines a culture as much as anything else; it is all in the small details. A few examples, one with photos. Breakfast on my first morning, a restaurant in a village with an amazing 11th century monastery. 10:30 am. I order a tortilla, a light omelet in this part of the country. A dictionary of their food would take many volumes because of the differences across the regions. It comes with toast and a ripe tomato that explodes with joy in my mouth. The couple next to me, in animated conversation, are each eating a large ring of homemade sausage, toast with slices of cheese, washed down with a litre of red wine. Breakfast! Later at lunch, I am enjoying a four course meal in a village restaurant near the parador. Salad, with another one of these tomatoes, a roast potato dish, and sautéed calamari complete with all the little legs – chiperones they are called in some places here. The table next to me is given a platter that could have been my second choice – a half dozen or so chunks of their home-made cured meats, pork, venison, wild boar, etc. They simply slice off what they want to consume. Their third course would came later, another meat dish. And, as I tell everyone, you have to consciously try to find overweight Spaniards as you go about your own day. Food defines a culture!
This evening in Roda de Isábena I had to wait until 9 o’clock for dinner. What a treat! In a room in the monastery attached to the cathedral, just off the cloister. Walking to find it in the darkened streets of this village was really a delight. I found myself in the13th century refectory where the monks ate, here with simplicity. This was a Cistercian house. Austerity, simplicity, work and prayer were the orders of the day. The traces of wall painting are from the 14th century.
An enjoyable evening! And the bottle of white wine was almost empty! I got a bit silly!