Going Home

I’m posting this from Seoul airport. Free wifi. Great. We have had a long flight from Paris and then two hours to kill here.

18th October 2012

Our trip is rapidly coming to a conclusion and there is still so  much undone and to do.  I must return to Paris before too long.

Today we spent quite a lot of time searching, for the Musee Picasso, only to find, when found, that it is closed for renovations until 2013.  Unfortunately we can’t wait that long.  Eva has finally found the green jacket, she saw a week ago, but it was too small, it was the last one in the last store we were going to visit.  So,all is not lost.  Foolishly I have left all the maps and stuff, but one, back at the apartment, so though we have a rough idea where we are it is hard to find specific places.

After wandering about for a while we decide to go to the exhibition at the Hotel de Ville, commemorating the Jewish children of Paris, who were deported during the war.  It was very moving due to the description of individual histories, rather than statistics.  Also it depicts resistance, evasion and assistance, not simply horror.  We spent more time than we thought, and it was time to go home when we emerged, because we were planning a trip to the Pompidou centre, which is open in the evening, on Thursdays.

Going in the evening has proved to be a bit of a disaster, as I am so tired the all the wonderful paintings seem to merge into one. Derain and Matisse and Picasso and Braque all jumbled up in my head.  It’s actually a relief when closing time is called.   Perhaps I am getting too old for this.

19th October 2012

Today we have to think about packing up and sorting out what needs to come home and what needs to be dumped.  It looks like we will be pushing the weight limit as we have a couple of bottles of wine to bring home.   Our 5 day metro, bus passes finish today, so we make the most of them to visit the Paris Modern Art museum.  This is the city of Paris museum as opposed to the national collection.   There is a good collection of Robert Delauney, including aerial view of Eiffel tower, and a huge piece at least six metre square, designed for an exhibition.  There are also some Matisse, Modigliani, van Dongen and Derain, in particular one of my favourites, La Rivière, so I’m very glad not to have missed out on this gallery.  In a separate room are two versions of Matisse’s Dance, one unfinished, which were designed for an architectural space.  They are very impressive, with grey figures on a rose, blue and black background.

20th October 2012

Last day in Paris.  The weather is threatening, but not yet raining so we walk in Buttes Chaumont park, which is not far from where we are staying.  It is one of the few parts of Paris that are hilly, and was at one time a quarry.  It was designated a park by Napoleons III, who was responsible for much of the look of Paris today.  There are many walks and a large ornamental lake and the precipitous cliff, the result of quarrying, topped by a folly.

We are supposed to be taken to Gare du Nord, when we hand over the key to the apartment, but instead we are very kindly taken all the way to Charles de Gaulle.  There we have one last  kerfuffle as we redistribute weight and chuck some old and mostly worn out shoes, to achieve just less than 23 kg each.

Paris is worth a pass

Having caught up with our travels at last it is nearly time for us to return home. This will be my last post until we get back to New Zealand, unless I can find some wifi at Seoul.

The best way to see Paris is by metro, a five day unlimited pass allows you to go almost anywhere and make as many mistakes as you like. It’s great!

12th October 2012

This is it! The final day of the car.  We head to Paris via a stop in Orleans, since we have plenty of time.   Orleans is a very beautiful city. We luckily find the last free park along the river where we examine the locks and the boats tied up alongside.   The old city has a very grand cathedral, similar to Notre Dame in Paris, and many grand shops.  Naturally there is a statue of Jean d’Arc, and also a rather splendid tram system.  But we must press on, having an appointment at 4pm, wondering if the petrol will last us back. (it did) All is going splendidly until the last kilometre.  Suddenly it all turns to custard!  The GPS says turn left, which I do, and we find ourselves underground in some infernal delivery zone.  It’s bewildered inhabitants stare at us with a mixture of wonder and despair.   Who are these visitors from the upper world?  OK, I made that bit up.  Meanwhile, we have lost the GPS signal, and after finding an exit, nearly repeat the whole cycle.  Now we seem to be heading towards Rouen, with no exit in sight.  Tom-Tom says turn left but there is no left turn!  Shall we ever be quit of the car?   At last we make one last turn and the gates of Peugeot are before us.

From here it is but a short hop to the RER at la Defense and we are inside the walls (metaphoric) of Paris.  There is one final frustration, as there appears to be something wrong with no. 75 bus, some people have been waiting for more than half an hour, and there are dark rumours that the line has been axed.  A nice Indian man, who speaks English, explains how to catch a 96, then change to 46, which will take us where we need to go.  An hour late we arrive at the apartment which will be our haven for the remainder of our stay.  Nothing remains but to eat and fall into bed.

13th October 2012

First day back in Paris and we are having a good long lie in, knowing that we don’t have to drive anywhere, and knowing where we will sleep for the next seven nights.  We would like to start off with some walking in parks and gardens, past the Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame, we stop for a while to watch some people who are making a film.  As usual, there are a lot of people standing around eating snacks and not apparently doing much else.  There are cameras mounted on a quad bike, which rushes up and down the street a couple of times and then backs and fills a bit.  A number of cars appear and line up, and there are a lot of people with film stuff, (canvas chairs) who suddenly rush off towards a bridge where a gantry is doing something or other.  What fun.  Apparently the film is called Red 2, and has Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren, who are definitely NOT on set.  I haven’t even heard of Red 1, have you?

Well the rain is getting worse, as we grab a bite near St Germaine des Pres, so we decide to sample haute couture at Galleries Lafayette, the ultimate temple of shopping, with five stories of ornate gallery’s around a light well, and a great stained glass cupola on top.  We are gaping at the outrageous clothes and shoes, and even more at the prices!  Sacre bleu.  Well at least we are dry, more or less.

14th October 2012

Still raining! We are going to go to Musee D’Orsay, and perhaps something else indoors.  Orsay is the premiere museum of nineteenth century art, as well as the well known Impressionists, there are collections of Neo-impressionists, Nabis, followers of Gaugin, and also includes the much neglected 19th century realist and academic painters.  Actually the Orsay takes most of the day and we are glad to head home when we finish.

15th October 2012

Today is sunny (hooray) and we went twice to the market, we could have sworn we visited on a Monday, when we first arrived, but it wasn’t there.  It was actually a Tuesday.  In between we walked through Pere Lachaise cemetary, which is fascinating and very peaceful with its jumble of graves and Roman style tombs. It is pretty hard to find anyone in particular, even with a map.  We did find Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.

Next we went to Montmatre, and climbed the steps to Sacre Coeur.  Imposing and sparkling white wedding cake from the outside it is fairly banal inside, but the plaza in front provides great views over Paris.  Having eaten half a baguette, we feel the need for something more and decide to return to the Marais, for the “best falafel in the world”, but actually we had the identical item from across the road, which isn’t in the Lonely planet guide, and didn’t have ridiculous queues.  So it may have been the second best falafel in the world, but it was delicious.  From there we strolled to Place des Vosges, a beautifully proportioned square with park and fountains in the centre.

Today is a parks and gardens day, since it is fine and sunny, and it may not be so again before we leave.  Next stop, the Jardins de Luxembourg, with a side trip to admire the magnificent Pantheon, built as a church by Louis XV, it is now a more secular shrine to France’s good and great.  The gardens are beautiful with the sun slanting through autumn colours, and a formal lake and flower beds complete the picture.  There are many movable chairs rather than benches for people  to sit on and they make there own informal groups.  It is probably mayhem in July and August, but today is is very relaxed.

16th October 2012

Some of the best things in travel, are those you find by accident.  The Pinacotheque de Paris is one, or rather two, of these.  It is an Art Museum, divided between two buildings, and is currently showing two related exhibitions, one of the Japanese print maker,  Utagawa Hiroshige, the other of Vincent van Gogh, who was hugely influenced by his discovery of Japanese prints, and Hiroshige in particular.  This is the first time there has been a major exhibition of Hiroshige in Paris and there are over 150 of his woodcut prints on show.  We saw some of these in the Hiroshige museum in Tokyo two years ago, but these are almost overwhelming in their magnificence.

In the other building there are more van Gogh’s, than I have ever seen together, more than 20 with explanations beside of the influence of Hiroshige.   In some the identity of composition is obvious, but in others it is I think a bit of a stretch, and given that other influences, particularly Corot, are well known, the thesis is taken a step too far.  Of course they are all imbued with the unique frenetic, disturbed life that only van Gogh achieves.

Well we were going to do something else today, but it is past 4:30 and we are exhausted having stayed up late last night.   We are watching quite a bit of television, to help improve our French, but are pleasantly surprised at the quality of programmes on at least one channel.   Would NZ tv show an historical movie and then immediately afterwards, have an interview with a real historian about the merits of the show and the general historical background? I don’t think so!

17th October 2012

It’s getting rather dark in the mornings, theses days, and despite our best intentions, we are getting up quite late.  Our tickets for Musee d’Orsay also include a visit to L’Orangerie, which expire today, so our destination is set.  I recall that there were only Monet’s Nypheas on view, but now L’Orangerie has been completely renovated and there is a new gallery downstairs dedicated to the Paul Guillaume collection.  Paul Guillaume was a prominent dealer and collector in the period before and between the wars.  There are representative pieces of Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso, and Matisse.   Also Modigliani, Rousseau, Laurincin and particularly Derain from after his Fauvist period.  The major figure of this collection though is Chaim Soutine, whose energetic a powerful imagery, falls between fauvism and expressionism.  I have somewhat discounted Soutine previously, never having seen his work in reality, but I am completely overturned by the real experience.  He is totally direct, with amazing psychological insight in portraits and imparts such energy to landscape, still life as to excite huge admiration.

Undoubtably, the real focus of L’Orangerie are the two huge oval salons, housing Monet’s Nympheas, eight huge inter-connected paintings of waterlillies and the reflections of willows in the ponds.  It is difficult to convey the impact of these paintings.  They must be viewed at leisure to appreciate their full impact.   From a distance, they seem to be faithful reproductions of relatively small sections of the water-lilley ponds, but close up they dissolve into a multitude of completely abstract paintings.   Without borders or perspective they pull you into a timeless space, which becomes all embracing.  They formed, perhaps the most lasting image of Paris, when first I saw them and they have lost none of their power.

The afternoon is relatively young when we emerge, so after a wifi and coffee stop at McDonalds, there is time for the Gustave Moreau museum.  Moreau is not everyone’s taste, and, I suppose is regarded more as curiosity today, even though he is connected as colleague or teacher of many of the most famous late 19th century painters.  Nonetheless, his intricate, highly symbolic, perhaps overcrowded paintings have an attraction for me.   The museum preserves a large part of Moreau’s house, with two floors crowded with his paintings, many unfinished.  Amongst the most notable are Jupiter and Semele, the triumph of Alexander the Great, Salome, two of Leda and for me, the piece de resistance, the Unicorns.  This painting, in reproduction naturally, seen when I was about 13, was I think, the source of my first interest in art.  I have been wanting to see it ever since.  It is quite small in comparison to many of Moreau’s works but it’s mystery and vibrancy is imeasurably greater than any reproduction.  I’m very happy to have seen it.

Towards Paris

10th October 2012

Our hosts have suggested some particularly picturesque villages to visit, so we will take three days to reach Paris, rather than the two we originally intended.  We will only go as far as Millau, of the famous viaduct.

Millau is not far along the road to Paris but it is fairly high, we cross a pass at 1012 metres, and intimates cooler weather ahead.  It is a pretty town, nestled in the confluence of the gorges du Gard.  In the evening we can see para gliders flying down from the massifs.  They seem nearly to be strung out along the contrails crisscrossing the sky.  We drive around a bit to find a good view of the viaduct, but ironically the best views are from the road leaving Millau.

11th October 2012
From Millau to Bourges is a very long drive to get closer to Paris.  We pass through some very beautiful countryside on the great plateau of the Massif Central, including the “puys” or extinct volcanoes near Clermont Ferrand, but we’re glad to find a motel within easy driving of Paris where we drop off the car tomorrow.   Having the car has been a mixed blessing, there were many things we could not have done without it, but it has been very stressful driving in the narrow streets of old towns.

Roman holiday

9th October 2012

We are staying in Bouillargues, a village, or small town of about 6000 people 7 km out of Nimes.  Nimes has a rather unusual coat of arms, a crocodile chained to a palm tree.  It originates from Roman times, when Colonia Nemuensis, was established by veterans from Egypt.   Besides the famous, Pont du Gard, which used to bring Nimes water supply, Nimes has some of the best preserved Roman remains in France including the Arena, which is still in frequent use today, The Maison Carre, a classical temple dedicated to the sons of Tiberius and the Tour  Magne, part of the Roman wall of Nimes.  Theses monuments have suffered various indignities in the past, the arena was fortified in late Roman and Visigothic times and was also used as housing, the Maison Carre, was turned into church and the foundations of the Tour Magne were so weakened by treasure hunters, acting on some words of Nostradamus, that it had to be strengthened in 1843, so that it could serve as a telegraphic relay station.

When we were last in Nimes – eeek, 35 years ago – the arena was being used for a tennis tournament, the Maison Carre was an empty shell, though it did have a statue of Diana inside, now it serves as a movie theatre for a rather corny presentation of some of the history of the city.  The Tower was pretty much abandoned, as I recall, and the circular staircase had no railings, but now it is developed, including ticket office, so we were able to enjoy the panoramic view of Nimes and the surrounding countryside.

Catching up!

We have been in Paris for three days, and it’s time to start getting up to date with our travels up to Nimes.

3rd October 2012

The Cathars were a christian sect, with dualist beliefs and were the fundamentalists of their day.  The name comes from the Greek word for perfect and some believed in re-incarnation, were strict vegetarians and refrained from sex. Flourishing in the 12th century, in the Languedoc, they were declared heretics by Pope Innocent III (nice touch, that name) and forced by the Albigensian crusade, into the mountainous regions of Roussillon and the former border fortresses on the Catalan frontier.  Now known as Cather  Castles these ruins are situated in spectacular high points and rocky ridges offering wide views of approaching enemies and being very difficult to attack.  We drove to 3 of the many places so called, Queribus, Peyrepertuse and Puilaurens.   Of the 3 Queribus has the most spectacular views, all the way to the peaks of the Pyrenees.  Amongst these sites is the Gorges de Galamus. With a narrow one car road carved into the overhanging cliff, there are staggering views into  the 800 metre drop from peak to river. After a hair-raising  drive over Col d’Aussieres (1031m) we come to Prades where we are staying the night.  Actually our hosts, Josef, Marie T and Anne Marie are at Nyer another 40k or so into the mountains, and as the road get narrower and steeper, we wonder if we will have to sleep tied to the side of a cliff.  The mountains here though, like many NZ mountains are steep at the bottom and more gentle on the tops.  There are lovely mountain meadows, forest, and our hosts, in a lovely converted barn have a huge vegetable garden and orchard, at least half an acre, with all kinds of fruit and vegetables.   The season is nearly over, but there are still piles of sweet cherry tomatoes, which we help to pick.  Josef, who describes himself as poet, philosopher and peasant, reads some of his poetry.  Better than Vogon.

4th October 2012

Next morning we go for a hike higher up the mountain, following a rapidly flowing channel, with our hosts, and Milord, the dog, a very friendly and hairy beast.  The air is so clear and pure, we can see for miles, up to the snow which is already covering the peaks.  When we return, Josef has made an unbelievably good paella, the best we have ever tasted.  Somewhat reluctantly, we leave for our next destination, Narbonne.   This cold not be more of a contrast, as we are staying in the heart of the old city, third floor, and the street just wide enough to get the car down.  From the window, there is a view of the cathedral towers and the former archbishop’s palace, now housing the Mairie, and a museum.

5th October 2012

Next day we walk around Narbonne, the cathedral has been under construction for over seven hundred years, it’s still not finished, the front part just a skeleton without a roof.  We were advised to visit  les Halles, a lively market wher we lunched at Chez Bebel, run by an ex rugby player, whose trick is to order meat from the nearby butcher over a megaphone, it is then passed rugby style, over the heads of the crowd, where he catches it, often one handed.  The  Musee Lapidiare, is a collection of Roman and Medieval stone, in a former church.   The stones are all piled on top of each other in apparently arbitrary fashion, it is quite dark and the high vaulting of the church creates a bizarre atmosphere, almost like the set of a scifi movie.

There is an exhibition of watercolour paintings in various venues around the town, some are very innovative and good, while the rest confirm my prejudice against the medium.

6th October 2012

Carcassone is the next stop, it is the largest fortified city in Europe, and from afar looks like a farytale city.  (Camelot!  It’s only a model). Inside it is more like Disneyland, and everything is for tourists.  Nevertheless, the bastion is interesting and shows evidence of its chequered past in the walls.  A fireplace hanging halfway up one wall.  After taking the definitive photo, I hope, of the city it’s on to Montpelier.  Our hosts live in a two storey house, on the edge of Lattes, which is close to Montpellier.  With only a bit of imagination, it could be a New Zealand house, so once again very different to the two previous stops.  

7th October 2012

There is an exhibition of Caravaggio and other exponents of chiaroscuro in Montpelier which we want to see, it is coming to the end of its run and we expect it to be easy to visit.  Big mistake.  It seems half of Montpellier has the same idea.  The queue is long and exquisitely slow moving, due to large numbers of pre-bookings and groups, which go to the top of the line.  It rains off and on, but not too seriously.  We talk to the family behind us who have left Lyon, 300 plus km, at 8 am, so we can’t complain too much.   After nearly an hour and a half we get in the door, to buy tickets, where there is another queue, to actually get into the exhibition.   I have never seen a Carravaggio in the flesh before and it is a great experience.  He is able to express every human emotion and gesture so well, and the dark, almost featureless backgrounds, contrasted to the light highlights the figures even more.  There are actually not a lot of Caravaggios, mostly works by his followers and sucessors.  The best of Caravaggio are The Ecstasy of St Francis, Ecce Homo, Boy Bitten by a Lizard and The Renunciation of Peter.  Best of all, is The Sacrifice of Isaac, which has a lot psychological acuity.   Isaac, supposedly a willing sacrifice, looks absolutely terrified (C knew better), the ram is practically shoving its way into the scene and Abraham looks pissed off with the angel who interrupts  his fantasy.  Amongst the other painter are two of my hero/heroines Orazio and Artemsia Gentileschi, with two versions of Danae.  Have to say Artemisia’s is better.  Others are Rimaldi, Vouet, Sarazeni, Guido Reni, Leonello Spada (surprisingly good) and of much later period, Georges de la Tour; a Magdalene, The Card sharps and Old Man with a Hat.  Generally, the later followers moved away from the idea of plain dark backgrounds which made the originals so dramatic and their depictions are more wooden.  One painting by Louis Finson, of Mary Magdalene Contemplating the Risen Christ, has a look on her face that suggests Christ has risen in a completely different fashion. 

Just around the corner from our hosts, literally only 100 metres, is the Museum of Antiquity.  Lattes, Lattera in Latin, was an important Roman port at the mouth of the Rhone, and there is a good collection of amphorae, household goods, glass and pottery from the period.  There is also an interesting display of pottery and pot making from the 17th century, discovered while building the excellent tramway to Montpellier.

8th October2012

As we head to Nimes our hosts come part way to show us the isolated cathedral of Morgulone, which we, of course had never heard of before.  It is one of the oldest Roman churches, built originally in the second century, destroyed by Charles Martel and rebuilt 200 years later.  Aigues Mortes, built by Louis IX, as an opening to the Mediterranean, once surrounded by sea is now tastefully surrounded by articulated trucks.   In the main square was a band making dreadful amplified music.  The rest was over priced cafes and tourist trinkets.  We did not stay long, and after a futile search amongst the marinas for a beach, we moved along towards Nimes.

Jumbo Issue

I have been finding it difficult to keep up the blog at the moment, because we have been so busy, and have been staying with people, which doesn’t leave much time for writing.

This will the last post before we reach Paris, I think.

29th September 2012

The weather forecast has predicted heavy rain for the last few days, but today it looks like coming to pass.   It is already raining as we set off for a museum davy.  As we leave, one of the camp staff tells us, in Spanish and sign language, to take a beach umbrella, the bottom of which has broken off, and “throw it away” when when we’re finished.

Off the train and there is already serious rain, so up goes the umbrella, it’s working well and much wider than everyone else’s. The rain is coming down harder and our feet are soaking, no point trying to avoid the puddles, in the old city the streets are running like rivers and gargoyles on the cathedral vomiting showers into the streets.  I am having a vision of a Monty Python “bring out your dead” sketch.  We go into the cathedral, which is free, swoon, to get out of the rain for a bit.   Of course there are geese!  The cathedral is remarkably beautiful, with lovely vaulted arches, a peculiarly placed choir, and, right in the middle steps leading down to the crypt, which contains a sarcophagus of Saint Eulalia, a 13 year old Roman martyr, who was supposed to have suffered 13 tortures (coincidence, I think not), but I expect it was probably only 9 or 10.  Anyway, she died, as we all do, and has at least got a pretty tomb.

Next we think we’ll pop into the Museo Picasso, for a bit more dry.   Ho, ho ho! The queue is about a mile long, however since we are already drenched, we are determined to stick it out.  Our umbrella is attracting a lot of admiring attention, even the umbrella salesmen are impressed.  It is certainly unique.  We strike up one of those instant friendships with the couple in front, who are from the Czech republic, and have some English.  We keep each others places and hold each others umbrellas, as we alternately nip off for a bite of lunch, hot cup of coffee.   There is a dealer gallery coming up now so I get leave of absence from the queue to have look.   One artist stands out, Anton Rabat, who is using a technique sewing outlines of objects, figures etc, and sewing pieces of canvas together, combined with painting to produce an interesting effect.

Almost exactly an hour later, we achieve the ticket office.  The Picasso museum is dedicated mainly to his earlier life in Corrunna and Barcelona and has representative works from his early stick figures (joke), actually some modest but accomplished scenes painted when he was only thirteen, to his first major works “Science and Charity” (15!) to portraits and landscapes around Barcelona from the 1900’s and culminating in his “Las Meninas” series, reworking and abstracting from Velasquez work.  One monochrome painting of a horse dying after being gored in bullfight, is a clear forerunner of the horse in “Geurnica”.   There are also some ceramics from the 50’s donated by his widow Jaqueline.

As we are about to leave the Picasso museum, a tired young American couple press on us some season tickets for seven museums, of which only one was used.  I don’t know whether we look particularly avuncular or particularly poor, but thank you USA.  (Maybe it was our umbrella)  Well, that’s about it for today.  We sloshed home, wrung ourselves out and went to bed.

30th September 2012

Today is Gaudi day.   I am sitting blogging on our balcony, as the sun sets behind the silhouette of Barcelona in the distance a glass of cerveza at elbow, the deluge of yesterday but a faint memory.  You can pick out some of the famous features, the Port Olympic tower, the cucumber shaped Torre Agbar and Sagrada Familia.  Life could not be much better

Earlier, determined to use at least some of our benefactors largesse, we swan up to the head of the queue at La Padrera, Gaudi’s innovative apartment block, at what was then the outskirts of the city – tourism must have been a doddle in those days – and it turned out to be a fantastic experience, from the roof to the attic, with great contemporary film clips, to the restored period apartments on the top floor.   There are also videos of some of his other houses and buildings, most of which we will not be able to see.   On the way there, we have sat and gazed at Casa Botilo from a McCafe, order espresso macchiato, another of Gaudi’s famous works, it is in fact a new facade for an existing building.  After La Padrera, we walk further up the hill to Casa Vincens, built as a country house, it is now firmly within the city.

1st October 2012 (Monday)

Oh Noes!!  We have just discovered the strange things that happen in Europe on 1st October.  The camp bar, which usually sells bread, is closed, and the other shops don’t open til after nine, but most devastating, the Dali museum in Figueres is closed on Mondays from 1st October.  

As we have a little time in hand, the plan is to have a relaxed day, going to the beach, having a swim and ending up in Figueres for some early morning Dali-ing  activities.  Driving north we see such exotic places (not) as Blanes, previously known only as the ultimate destination of our Barcelona train.  We decide on a visit to Cadaques, which Lonely Planet recommends, it is at the end of a peninsula sticking out into the Med just before Spain meets France.   On the way is palace called Roses, which reputable has the most expensive restaurant in the world.   We decide not to stop.  The last 19 km is a very winding steep hill – it could show the Rimutakas a thing or two – but compensates with some splendid views.  Unusually, there are one or two photo spots so I do manage to get some panoramic shots.  

The town is touristy, but quite nice nonetheless, with a great little bay, boats and topography which reminds one of Akaroa.   We picnic on the beach, stony but flat slatey stones not sharp argelite ones, and beyond the water edge is sandy.  Compulsory swim!  Actually, very nice, though the water is cooler and the days not so hot, so we wonder whether we will do much more swimming as we reach the south of France.   A little sunbathing and a promenade and it is time to head back to Figueres to find accomodation.

We are staying in a bungalow, at camping Pous, a strangely appointed affair. There are twelve spoons but no knives or forks!  The sheets are disposable and look like the kind of stuff they wrap electronic products in.  The towels are the same material.   We are strangely tired after our relaxing day and heading to bed shortly after 9pm.

2nd October 2012

Today we went to the Dali museum.   It’s a little inaccurate to call it a museum, as its more of an experience than a museum.  It is housed in the old theatre of Figueres which was restored by Dali and his wife Gala.  Because we have stayed overnight we arrive shortly after opening time and there are few people around, but within half or three quarters of an hour there are huge crowds of bus tour from Barcelona, American students and others.  You can barely squeeze through the galleries.   Thank goodness it’s the off season, it must be an inferno in August.   There are, of course many of the expected aspects of Dali’s work, the drooping pocket watch, the ants emerging from figures, but there are also other aspects of Dali visible, including surprising lyricism, and previously unknown to me, bizarre and erotic(?) drawings.  What is also in evidence is Dali’s debt to Velasquez, El Greco and Goya, and his devotion to Gala.

We cross over into France and immediately find a cultural difference and a great magic word in this part of the world.  As we stop at a supermarket in Boulou, a man in the car parked next to us makes some remark, which I didn’t catch, but when we say we are  from New Zealand, we receive a 15 minute pean to “les Blacks” and a lecture on “la balle ovale”.   Wow!  Again we are looking for a place to stay, and most of the camps are closed, but we finally fetch up at the Camping Municipale at Saint Marie la Mer, the lady behind the desk says they have no cabins, but “Nouvelle Zealande” and the manager picks up his ears.  He is Didier Sanchez, who is a Perpignan coach and once played against the All Blacks.  He is on the phone to a mate, most of the cabins are privately owned, and voila!  We have a room for the night.   This “camping” is like a shrine to rugby, with a huge statue of a rugby player, and around the swimming pool are murals of rugby players, including Dan Carter and Gary Whetton.

Park Guell

28th September 2012

Our first full day in Barcelona begins with Eva trying to contact an endodontist, she’s worried about her tooth, which has been playing up since we left.   Well, they are either all on holiday, or they start very late, because she has no sucess.  We decide to go into town anyway and she leaves a contact number.   The weather report has been promising rain, but the morning was fairly clear, so we did not take any rain gear, a decision which turned out to be a mistake.    Gaudi is the theme for today, and first up is Sagrada Familia, after some map confusion I’m convinced they have changed all the street names, we head in the right direction and soon it appears.   It is indeed an impressive pile of stone and the decoration is incredibly ornate.   I feel almost transported back to the middle ages, as the construction is still proceeding after more than 100 years.  Some parts are old, with stained stone, while others are bright and new.  Crane gantries and scaffolding surround parts of the building and there is even an abseiler working on some of the statuary.   We would go in but when we, at last, find the right queue for tickets, it is almost as long as that for the Sistine Chappell, so we decide to head instead for Park Guell, Gaudi’s other masterpiece.   It is said to be within walking distance of Sagrada Familia.   This is technically true, as we proved.  However it is uphill, and getting steeper by the step but we make it!

We have just gone in the gates when the rain starts and we shelter in a pergola formed beneath one one Gaudi’s raised walks, along with many other coat and umbrella-less tourists.   There is a man playing the guitar and singing Guantanamera.   He gets great applause, and probably half his monthly income in twenty minutes.  This must be the origin of the saying about clouds and silver linings.  When the rain eases a little we scoot off to the Casa Gaudi, a museum made from his house and containing examples of his furniture and other objects, though from divers sources.  Observing that the rain has stopped we continue the garden tour, particularly the plaza and three houses, covered with Gaudi’s tile work and done in his fantastic organic shapes.

It is a relatively easy trundle down the hill to Barcelona’s Are de Triomf ( original spelling), which is a bit kitsch, and nowhere near as triumphal as Paris’s.  From there, we are looking for the Catalunya music centre, which has Gaudi columns, but you have to take a guided tour and it is getting a bit late so we return home.

The camp is emptying now as autumn sets in, at least of humans.  We have identified at least eleven cats, and there are probably more.  They all seem healthy and friendly, so we assume they are not strays.

El Masnou, is a very mixed area, with some really nice apartments, some run down, and at least one ruin with squatters.  After a meal we take a walk along the promenade, sampling the sea with our feet and inspecting the marina.  From what we can see a large proportion of the yachts are for sale, a symptom no doubt of the crisis.   Many of the restaurants are also closed, and the rest have very little custom.  In other respect Spain seems to be carrying on. There are abandoned projects, but also construction.  We have seen some demonstrations, but not large ones (though we have seen one large demonstration in Madrid on the tele).  What we have seen, spray painted in many places, the expression “bancs culpables”, which seems to sum up the mood very well.