Tossa-Lloret

We had quite the eventful weekend. We gad been invited to a party on Saturday evening at Lloret de Mar, a town about one hour north of Barcelona, at the Costa Brava. While I was checking out the schedule for the bus to Lloret, I realized that 20 mins after Lloret was the town of Tossa de Mar, a place I had heard much about and which I had always wanted to visit. So I convinced Alan that we should leave Barcelona early in the morning, visit Tossa and then go back to Lloret to meet our friends later. He promptly agreed and you can read the rest of the story on his blog.

Tossa

Segovia

A Roman town, later abandoned for three hundred years following the Islamic conquest of Spain, when the region fell into the no-man’s land between Christian and Islamic Spain, and repopulated after the conquest of Toledo by Alfonso VI in 1085, Segovia is known today for its amazing Roman aqueduct, its cathedral and the alcazar, the royal castle that looks just out of a fairy-tale. But the number 1 thing that every Spaniard told me as soon as I mentioned Alan and I would be going to Segovia is that when in that city, one MUST have a cochinillo at Mesón de Candido. Cochinillo is a roasted suckling pig that is supposed to be very typical of Segovia. Another typical dish of the region is judiones, large white beans cooked in a number of ways. To cut the travel report to a minimum, I’ll focus on the top-five of my trip:

Pl. de San Martí – much less touristy than the Plaza Mayor, we found a local bar, frequented mostly by locals who all seemed to know one another, where we could sit outside and appreciate the view of the city below.

Plaza S. Martin

Tapas – central and southern Spain is the land of tapas and while in touristy establishments you are likely to be charged for them, in local places the tradition still survives of getting a free tapas with every drink you order. At our favourite spot at Pl. S. Martin that usually meant two canape-style piece of bread with either tortilla, sausage, anchovies, etc per drink. You could also order 12 pieces for 6 euros. Other options included 1/4 size grilled ham and cheese sandwiches or a plate of chips. By the way, you don’t order a specific free tapa with your drink, the waiter chooses something. I love it.

Small-town feeling – I love visiting the small towns of Spain. I particularly enjoy spending multiple days in the nice ones where tourists usually only spend the day. People are friendly, you quickly get recognized at the local bar, and its nice to be able to walk everywhere and not have to worry about safety.

Nature – the town is in a very nice place, surrounded by towering mountains at a distance, and lots of green places around the old city. Alan and I went exploring some of the off-the-beaten path places outside the walls of the city and found an incredible path that went around the whole city. It might have been an ancient moat that was later adapted as a walking path. We were there in the morning, the air was crisp, there were lots of birds around, and the diffuse light breaking through the trees plus the fluff floating in the air made the place quite magical. Locals seem to use the path to walk or jog and I’d definitely take up running if I lived in Segovia. With all the free tapas, it would certainly be a necessity ;)

Path

The conference – It was the best conference I have ever been. We even made to the local news in Segovia (both printed and live)! The conference was small – perhaps about 30-40 people altogether – and most of us were staying at the same hotel, with breakfast and lunch included. The hotel set a separate dining room for us so we all had meals together and since there was only one session at a time, we also saw each other at each session of the conference. That allowed us to get to know one another and although the schedule was tough (the first session started at 9:30 AM and the last one ended at 9 pm, with a two-hour lunch in the middle of the day), I got to chat quite a bit with scholars from all over the place. I was particularly happy for the opportunity of meeting Miriam Bodian and Mary Elizabeth Perry, two well-known and respected scholars who turned out to be quite nice and friendly. My paper went really well, I got lots of questions and was able to answer them well (I think). I got lots of praise in front of my supervisor, which was very nice. There was talk of having the next conference (in 2010) in Cuenca, another interesting historical town. Can’t wait!

You can read (much) more about the trip and see more photos at Alan’s blog:
Off to Segovia
Arrival in Segovia
Segovia – Day two
Segovia – Day three

He tells me there’s one more post coming, so stay tuned to his blog.

Click on the picture below for a slideshow of the pictures I took in Segovia, I’ll try to add some text in coming days.

Segovia slide show

The birth of a research assistant

I had been planning to go to Girona to collect some documentation for a long time now but couldn’t figure out the best time to go. As usual, the decision was made for me when I found out that a famous Spanish historian would be giving a public lecture in Girona on Thursday night. Perfect, I thought. We’ll go to Girona, I can do research during the day while Alan wanders around, catch the lecture at night and we could spend the night. With that in mind we set out on Thursday morning.

I found a very nice two-star Pensión near the cathedral. Pensión Bellmirall is in a 14th-century house on a nice side street. We were very pleased with our room:

Room 2 at Bellmirall

After checking in, we set out to the Archivo Diocesano de Girona, where I had to collect some documents. Alan didn’t really feel like wandering the sights on his own so he volunteered to take pictures of the documents I needed. Since this was the first time he handled 14th-century documents, he was in constant awe. I’m always telling him about the neat books and documents I see people working with at the archives here in Barcelona and he was pleased to have the opportunity to handle some of these himself.

Register of Letters from the bishop Opening the books

This one still had its original cover:

Pink cover for an account book

Every once in a while we would find little drafts and notes stuck inside the books:

notes

I was very pleased at the two archives I needed to visit. The people at both the Archivo Diocesano and the municipal archives were very friendly and nice. There was no red tape to speak of – no one demanded an introduction, reference letters and the like – and I was allowed to bring anything in the room. Very low profile. Both archives are also up to date with their use of technology and are working hard to digitize their documents.

After the work at the archives was done, we went out for lunch and took the afternoon off to explore the city a bit. The old town of Girona is beautiful and considered one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. The city is also considered the best place to live in Spain. We had been there before and you can see some pictures here and here.

I really enjoyed our time there, maybe I’ll make the Jewish community of Girona my second project… That way we could spend a year there ;)

Despite feeling guilty for abandoning my main research here in Barcelona for a few days, the trip was successful and we can home with a few hundred pictures of documents that I can use for my thesis… And Alan has been named my official research assistant ;) Go here for Alan’s take on his new job. Now, if only I could teach him paleaography….

Amazing food in Girona

Of course, after all that researching we needed to eat! I was determined to have a good eating experience and after a bit of research, I decided to have lunch at Mimolet, a new restaurant about a block away from the cathedral in a tiny side street. Call it gourmet Catalan at its best. It’s not cheap but for a restaurant of its class I didn’t find it terribly expensive either. A three-course lunch menu is 14.75 euros (at night an 8-course degustation menu runs at 40 euros, which is not bad at all). The meal was well worth it. We set right beside the cheese counter and all my efforts to live dairy-free went up in smoke and I had the five cheese taster for a first course. All I can tell you is wow, it was great.

How could I resist all those wonderfully smelly cheese??

Cheese at Mimolet

As a main course I had grilled dorade, a tasty white fish from the Mediterranean, served with some nice grilled vegetables. The fish was done to perfection – cooked only until it reached opacity. Alan had Arroz con sepia, which is a rice cooked with a kind of calamari. We both had coconut sorbet with ginger as dessert, served rolled in a nice bit of crepe. I liked the meal so much that I would love to go back one day to have the tasting menu…

At night we went to the Creperie Bretonne for some highly-recommened crepes. Although the crepes were all perfectly done and I discovered a new-found love for dessert crepes, which were never my thing, the neat thing about this place was the decor. They had a bus – that’s right, a bus – inside the restaurant! The bus was hollowed out and the waiters used it as the salad counter:

Bus Bus 2

All in all, a very successful eating holiday ;)

Mimolet is on C/Pou Rodó, 12 tel 972 20 21 24

Creperie Bretonne is C/ Cort Reial, 14 tel. 972 218 120

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Update: There’s a Creperie Bretonne in Barcelona as well! It’s located under the big golden fish at the Passeig Maritim. And this one also has a bus inside:

Creperie Barcelona

Photo from Creperie Bretonne’s website.

Lunch on top of a mountain

Map of CatalunyaAs some of you know from Alan’s blog, last Sunday Sebastian, Alan and I took the train up to Vic for a bit of hiking.

What a day! We left Barcelona on the 9:22 train to Vic and our friends Pau & Mireia met us at the train station. We first met Pau & Mireia at Jackie & Sebastian’s place. Mireia is a PhD student who worked with Jackie at the research lab in Barcelona. Pau works as a contractor (sort of – they call it a “technical engineer” here) and, as a member of a hiking club up in Vic, he helps preserve the regions’ trails. They are a wonderful couple and some of the nicests & warmest people we have met here and the reason I get very deffensive when anyone says the Catalan are cold and unfriendly.

But I digress. Back to our hike. Pau had made reservations at a restaurant – Sanctuari de Cabrera – at a centuries’ old house on top of a mountain outside of Vic. It seems to be quite a local institution and families make a big outing out of hiking to the restaurant on the weekends. We drove part of the way and then hiked the last two hours to the restaurant. You can read all about it here. The path up there was wonderful and the building itself was…. well, you’ll see it on the slideshow below:

Click here to start slideshow

The place was obviously known only to locals. The owner freaked when Pau told her that we were from Canada & Brazil. It was the best trip we have done here. That’s what travelling is all about for me – going off the beaten track and connecting with the locals. And this weekend we got a taste of the real Catalunya…

Needless to say we had a wonderful time and will be going out with Pau and Mireia on another excursion soon… The question is: will it be the sleepy towns around the Pyrenees or the Costa Brava?

Monks, kings, markets & calçots

Yesterday was amazing! We drove through wine country, discovered a gorgeous thirteenth-century monastery, wandered through the market at Valls, and drove through half the region searching for calçots.

I can´t wait to tell you all about it but since I´m at work right now, I´ll direct you to Alan´s blog, where he talks about our day and shares some of the beautiful pictures he took.

Pobles de Catalunya: Arenys de Mar

As described below, Alan and I went to Arenys de Mar on sunday with out friends Matt & Elena. Known in the Middle Ages as Santa Maria d’Arenys, this town of about 9,000 inhabitants had a very important port from the 16th century onwards. It had then four shipyards and a large shipbuilding industry. After the ports of Spanish America were opened to Catalan commerce in the 18th century, Arenys quickly moved ahead to supply ships for the journey. There were 45 regular ships that travelled to America by the end of the century. The town lost much of its strength in the 19th century, with the advent of steam engine ships and the construction of the docks in Barcelona. Since then it has dedicated itself mostly to tourism and fishing.

We left Barcelona on the 10:18 train and arrived in Arenys a little after 11 AM. The town is quite pretty, spread between the mountains and the sea. We walked from the train station to the older part of town and saw our first odd sighting: bottles of cava. They were everywhere, by each door, reaps of bottles. At first we thought they had some big party on saturday night. But then we realized there were no other kind of bottle – surely if they had a party there would had been beer & wine bottles as well? Other than that, the streets were charming, with that quaint mediterranean seaside feel to it.

We continued our walk and made our way up the hill to the cemetery, which is supposed to be one of the high points of Arenys. I like cemeteries. Oddly, I can’t go to funerals -I didn’t go to any of my grandparents’ funerals, and the few funerals of strangers (usually a friend of a friend or a relative of a friend) I attended left me feeling ill. But somehow, I find cemeteries quite nice and peaceful. The one in Arenys was on top of a hill overlooking the sea and had lots of really nice monuments. I struck conversation with an old lady that was watering the flowers near her family’s grave and she was obviously very proud of the place, despite complaining that the town used to be much nicer thirty years ago. She did enlighten us on the cava bottle mystery. Apparently, in Arenys de Mar everybody puts out their cava bottles on sunday for recycling. Not any bottle, just cava bottles!

The walk up the hill opened our appetites so we walked down to the port to look for a restaurant I had heard about that serves only fresh fish and seafood. It was 1:30 pm and the Bar del Puerto was packed already! As anybody who has been to Spain before, 1:30 pm is quite early for lunch so the fact that the restaurant was already full was a good sign ;)

We had salad, calamares a la romana and boquerones en vinagre to start, a platter of mixed grilled fish and seafood as a main (it was really good!), dessert, coffee, water and wine for less than 20 euros per person. A very good meal! By the way, we ate outside, it was nice and warm and we could hardly believe it was mid January!

After lunch we spent a little while exploring the docks, before we took the 4:30 train home. I took a lot of pictures but unfortunately, I won’t have them developed until later in the week. For now I’ll leave you with a few shots I snapped with Alan’s digital (you can also see more pics on his site):

Port at Arenys

Bar del Puerto

The line up at the restaurant continued all afternoon…

Line up

update: for more pictures, go here

Pre-trip: Arenys de Mar

Since we only have a few more months left before we go back to Canada, I decided it’s about time we explore a bit more of Catalunya. The plan is to mix the occasional weekend trip with a day trip on sundays, depending on how much time and money we have.

So, this sunday we’ll go to Arenys de Mar, a small town in the Costa de Maresme, about 50 min by train from Barcelona. The town has one of the oldest ports along these shores (still very busy), a few nice modernist buildings, a famous cemetery with lots of interesting monuments since many modernist architects were buried there, a mineralogy museum, and literary fame. The famous Catalan poet, Salvador Espriu, immortalized the place in his poems, where the town appeared renamed as Synera (Arenys spelled backwards).

Should be interesting. I’ll have a report tomorrow with a couple of pictures from Alan’s digital. My pictures will take a few days as usual…