Visits to the Costa Brava & the Pyrenees

At the end of November we rented a car and drove up through Girona and then into a national park over winding mountain roads that often appeared to be one-way tracks (but weren’t — exciting!) and then down to the pretty Costa Brava beach town of Cadaques.

Girona was built beside the Onyar river and is known for its medieval architecture, it’s walled old town and Jewish quarter and the Roman remains of the Força Vella fortress. We weren’t organized enough to see all of that, though. We parked by the river and then wandered aimlessly through the charming streets. We had lunch at a casual restaurant, La Fabrica, run by a former Tour de France winner — where the walls were hung with bicycles and the food was covered in edible flowers — and then visited the cathedral and cloister, which are perched high on the hill. We would have spent much more time walking the streets and doing more diligent tourist-ing, but we wanted to make it to Cadaques before dark.

And side note . . . that snoozing greyhound is Tino. We fostered him for a week for a greyhound rescue organization. He was very sweet-natured and wanted to cuddle with the humans or on any soft surface.

In Cadaques, where we stayed in an AirBnB apartment with windows looking right out on the water, we had our Thanksgiving dinner at Compartir, a restaurant run by three alumni of the famous El Bulli. This was a special treat: the food was inventive, surprising and delicious. In summer the town (and the restaurant) are quite crowded, but in the winter low season we felt like we had almost everywhere to ourselves. The gelato shop below our apartment was closed, as were many restaurants. The streets were almost empty. The man who seemed to live outside by the main square felt fine changing clothes in the open in the daylight with no sightseers wandering by.

We couldn’t swim, of course, although there are little beaches scattered everywhere, but we did hike out around the Cap de Creus — the point of the peninsula that is the easternmost point in Iberia — and then later walked across the peninsula to the tiny Port Lligat, where Salvador Dali and his wife, Gala, had their principal residence for more than 30 years.

Cap de Creus

The Dali house, which now sprawls along the water and is the sole attraction of Port Lligat, started as a single one-room fisherman’s hut. Over time the Dalis bought and connected the neighboring huts, and then built more rooms and a garden and a pool. All of it is decorated with art and oddities, and apparently in the same condition that it was left in by Salvador, who departed suddenly and forever on the death of Gala.

By coincidence, while waiting to enter Dali’s house we ran into a family we knew from Barcelona who were staying in a different town nearby. We all went back to Cadaques together for lunch and some posing with the statue of Dali.

On the way home we also stopped in the town of Figueres, where Dali designed a whole museum (in an abandoned theatre) for his work. In the past I hadn’t had much appreciation for Dali, but after seeing the work in his house and in the museum I am a fan: he was technically brilliant, ever-evolving, funny and creative across multiple media.

Back in Barcelona, a few weeks later, we visited the Christmas market in front of the cathedral to pick out a tree for our house. The market features lots of Christmas crafts, including several whole stands devoted to the Caga Tio — the log with a painted-on face, red beret and little branch-legs, that poops out presents for Catalan children when they beat it with sticks — and the Cagador — the figure of the squatting, pooping man who is a customary part of the nativity scene here. You know, just the usual Christmas-time stuff.

And then at the tail-end of December, just before Christmas, we rented a car again and drove 4 hours from Barcelona up to the Pyrenees, to the ski town of Baqueira-Beret in the Aran Valley. Because the towns in this valley are sited so low, and the snow is higher up on the tall peaks, which top out around 8,500 feet above sea level, the ski resorts are arranged so that you first take a lift to a sort of base station, where the snow starts, and then take a second lift up to the top of the ski slopes. Or at least, that was the arrangement when we visited. Later in the winter I assume that the snow extends lower into the valleys.

For everyone but me this was the second time on skis, ever, so they all took lessons for two hours each day with a British instructor named Joe who had a nice curly mustache and lived in a van with his girlfriend when they weren’t working the slopes during ski season. Joe was a friendly and patient teacher, and after only three days Benji was racing confidently down the intermediate slopes and said, happily, “It’s so exhilarating!”

Even Brook, who had been skeptical, was won over by the views and the mild temperatures.

But I’ve really buried the lede here, because of course the most important news is . . . we have added to the family with the adoption of Pepper, the wonder bunny. Named initially in honor of Pepper Potts — based on her resemblance to Gwyneth Paltrow’s character in Iron Man — she may in fact be Dr. Pepper, Sgt. Pepper, or even Mr. Pepper. We aren’t quite sure of the gender, and rabbit-sexing is harder then I knew. In any case, he or she is flop-eared and completely unafraid of Stella. She loves following Mimi and Benji around the house, being outside, and having her ears scratched.

And that’s all for now. Happy holidays to everyone, and best wishes for 2020!

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