Thursday, 18 July 2013

Dali Theatre-Museum & a snow-less ski resort

Monday 17th June 2013

It feels like today was actually two days as the two halves were so different to each other. We started the day in super hot and sunny Figueres, Spain, to visit the Salvador Dali Theatre-Museum and ended the day in cloudy Les Angles, France, in the Pyrenees mountains on an empty ski resort!

The Dali museum was built on the ruins of the Municipal Theatre of Figueres which was destroyed by fire in the Spanish Civil War. The structure remained and Dali built and designed his museum on it as he thought there was no better place to display his work than in his home town. The whole building is a work of art with the giant glass dome ceiling, massive eggs and the displays inside. Dali himself is buried in a crypt in the center of the building.

We spent about 3 hours inside the museum as there was so much to look at. It was a bit annoying that they had
 group tours that were so big that when you were looking at something they would come and swarm around you so their guide could talk about whatever they were looking at and you couldn't see any more! It was also pretty frustrating that people would stand in front of the painting or sculpture so they could have their photo taken with it and then you couldn't see that either but other than that I really enjoyed looking around. Some of the work was so surreal I would have loved to know what was going on in his head when he created it! Adam's favourite was a sculpture of a small crocodile holding a lamp that he wants to have a go a recreating himself. Some of my favourites...
Gold mannequins in the windows of a circular courtyard

The glass dome ceiling behind a raised boat // Sculpture on the wall made of drawers, sinks and other items

Surreal Dali drawings

One half of a surrealist painting on the ceiling

Creepy sculpture and 'Dematerialisation Near the Nose of Nero

It was quite a long drive out of Figueres to our next destination. Our plan was to go back up through the Spanish/French border and find a place to stop for the night before making our way to Carcassonne tomorrow. We had picked up a leaflet near the beginning of the trip that listed loads of castles to visit in France and the fortress in Carcassonne was free for people aged between 18 and 30 so it seemed like a good place to head next. 

As soon as we hit the mountains it started to get cloudier and cloudier. We had a look in our Aire's France book and found a free Aire on the French ski resort of Les Angles so headed there. The drive through the Pyrenees mountains was amazing. We had already been through the lower parts of the Pyrenees on our way to Spain and I thought those views were incredible but these were even better. We climbed over 1600 metres of sheer cliff edged roads. We could even see in the distance a mountain that still had snow at the top. 

We parked up at the bottom of a ski lift just as it started raining. Another GB motor home with an English couple arrived shortly after and seeing our British plates they came over to say hi. We had a quick chat with them and they let us look around their motor home when we said we would be going back home soon to buy another camper. I'm not sure they realised our budget was more around the 5k mark than their 30k motor home but it was nice to see the inside anyway! 
There is a lot of thunder and lightening going on tonight but hopefully when we drive out of the mountains to get to Carcassonne it will clear up!

Deserted chair lift and ski slope with no snow on it :(

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Sonar festival, Barcelona!

Sunday 16th June 2013

We didn't hang around long being gloomy after our van had been broken into as we had a lot of things to look forward to this week! On Wednesday we met our friend Rich at Barcelona airport and after a quick trip to the supermarket to pick up large quantities of BBQ food and beers we whisked him back to our favourite campsite in Gava, The 3 Estrellas, for a chilled night catching up.

Rich and I and a whole lotta food

Rich had flown over as he was going to Sonar festival with some friends that were all on different flights and some that lived in Spain. When Adam and I were debating whether we should get tickets we found out that Rich was going and since we have been to Global Gathering back in England with him for the past 4 years, he is somewhat of a festival buddy so we decided to get a Saturday ticket while Rich was there for the whole weekend.

We ended Wednesday evening with a midnight beach stroll, the campsite opens up onto the beach but we found at that time of night they lock the gates shut. We were about to give up when a nice lady from Belgium called us back and said she had found a way over. Thanks Belgium lady!

On Thursday we took Rich on the bus into Barcelona and had a yuuuummy tapas lunch (pork in cider was amazing) before Rich headed off to find his hotel and Adam and I bought penny boards for each other as it was our four years together! 

Sonar festival ran from Thursday to Sunday and had events in different places in the city for Sonar Day and Sonar Night. We headed in around 9.30 for Sonar Night and it was held just outside the city center in three warehouses and two outdoor stages in between them. There were a few people milling around when we got there and we ordered a beer for Adam and a massive pint of vodka Redbull for me (only available size not my fault!)

I didn't really get the normal festival vibe I usually get but I think that was because we were only there for one night and not the whole weekend like we usually do at festivals and also because it was indoors! The warehouses were massive and the sound for each stage was kept inside them well as when you went outside you couldn't hear the sounds from different stages getting mixed up. We had an awesome night seeing Kraftwerk with their 3d show, Baauer, Major Lazer, Skrillex, Two Door Cinema Club and watching the sun come up with Diplo til around 7am. They were the ones I remember seeing anyway!

Sun setting behind an outdoor stage, not many people here yet!
Bumper cars! Had a go on these around 5am
Kraftwerk 3d glasses!
Unfortunately we didn't get to party with Rich as he was pretty much wasted the whole weekend and none of his group had phone battery or even knew where their phones were! But we did get to hear funny stories of him wondering around Barcelona and getting lost when we met up with him again on Sunday. He had spent a lot of time lost, wandering through the areas of Barcelona populated by prostitutes, trying and failing to use a pay phone to call someone to tell him where to go and wanting to buy a dress to turn up back at the hotel in but unfortunately realising he'd spent all his money. I'm sure we'll see more of him at Global Gathering this year though so plenty more shenanigans to come!

Saturday was spent recovering and after we had dropped Rich back at the airport today we left Barcelona after nearly a month of being there to start making our slow journey home. We still have about two weeks before we plan to be home but we're gonna take it slow and stop at a few places on the way. We also plan on meeting up with Adam's dad who will be on a two week holiday riding his motorbike around the continent soon.

We are currently in Figueres, Spain, as we plan on visiting the Dali museum tomorrow. For tonight we have found a place to stay in a car park next to a massive old fort. Just walked around it and it took over an hour. It's quite high up though so really nice views and we can even see Roses in the distance, where we stopped at the beach one day previously.

Big old fort walls

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Smurf Mobile has been violated

Tuesday 11th June 2013

Today our van got broken into :(

We have been staying for a few weeks in Gava, just outside of Barcelona. Some nights we stay on a nearby campsite, some nights we park on various roads nearby which are in residential areas by the beach. There is a motorway which runs parallel to the beach and some roads coming straight up from the beach have now been blocked off as this motorway passes through so there are a few dead end roads just used for parking and this is where we have been staying. There have been a few other campers around too. We usually park on the dead end roads at night, and if we go to the beach, move a few hundred meters so the van is closer to us on the beach and we can see it. We also move the van onto the main road running through the area when we go into Barcelona so that it is not on it's own where no one can see it when we are away.

Hooowever, today we decided to leave the van parked in the shade and we couldn't see the van from where we were sitting on the beach. Equally as annoying is that today is the last day we would have been parking in that area. Tomorrow our friend Rich is flying into Barcelona airport as we are all going to Sonar Festival, so we would have been staying in the campsite for the rest of the week and then leaving to drive a few hundred miles to Figueres to visit the Dali museum. So frustrating!

We have so far felt quite safe in Gava, it's a nice, quiet area mainly with residential houses and apartments, an expensive restaurant nearby and a children's play school. We did have one incident maybe a week ago which made us a bit wary but not enough so to make us leave or consider the security of our van. We were parked in one of the dead end roads in the afternoon and I think we had come back from the beach to sit in the shade. Adam and I were sitting on the wall next to our van just reading and trying to cool down when a battered white car comes down the road and does a three point turn. We didn't really look up as a lot of cars have been using the road to turn around in. There are two Asian guys probably in their late 30's in the car and they stop by us and roll down the window and start asking repeatedly questions in English like why are we parked here, how long are we going to be there. A bit confused and not really able to answer those questions Adam enquirers why they want to know. The driver gets out a tacky, computer printed, laminated card that has Police written on it and they advise us they are the police and need to see our passports. Hmmm unlikely. Adam asks to see their ID again they promptly drive off.

Of course we have no idea if it was these same guys that came back when we were at the beach and broke in but I've had my suspicions. We returned from the beach to find the whole 4 foot window removed and thrown in a bush by the side of the road. Luckily it hadn't smashed and the seal was still there with it. At first Adam didn't think they had actually got in because the sink unit inside only leaves a small gap but when we got inside it was quite obvious they had been successful. All the good stuff was gone, amounting to quite a bit of money and the things they didn't have an interest in were strewn around.

We called the police and reported the crime but were told we would have to go to the local station to report it there as well. We drove there with the window out in case they wanted to have a look. I know the chances of finding our stuff or even who did it are practically nil but the police couldn't have been more unhelpful or unsympathetic. We waited ages to fill in a form, they gave us a copy and Adam asked what would happen next. The officer advised they would call us if they find anything, but when Adam pointed out that they didn't even know what was taken as there is nowhere on the form to put this the officer didn't understand any more English. We drove back to the campsite to put the window back in ourselves.

Pretty upsetting but at the end of the day it is just things and they didn't get our passports or any money and we weren't hurt and we didn't have to pay for any repairs to the van. It just sucks that our stuff isn't going towards feeding some hungry babies, it's going on crack. 

Visiting mum & dad in Santa Susanna, Spain

Sunday 9th June 2013

We have spent this week in the tourist resort of Santa Susanna on the coast of Spain as my mum and dad were there for a little holiday for about 3 days. I had been in contact with my mum whenever we had access to WiFi, sending messages back and forth and my mum kept asking if we would be anywhere near the resort and if so would we come and visit. I kept my replies a bit vague saying we weren't sure what we were doing and where we would be at the time of their arrival to try and keep our being there as a surprise.

We arrived at the resort the night before my parents were due to get there so parked up in a supermarket car park which was near their hotel and had a look around. There was the main strip of bars, restaurants and shops a few minutes away so we had a look around and scouted out the beach. We hadn't stopped anywhere this touristy on our trip yet and even though the whole thing could be considered one big holiday, this week really did just feel like a typical holiday, mostly consisting of lounging on the beach :)

My parents arrived at their hotel around midday the following day and I tried to get an idea of where their room would be so we could be standing outside waving when they looked out their window! However this didn't really work and my mum just thought my hints like telling her to look outside into the supermarket car park was just me looking at where they were on Google maps! They eventually came down to see us and got big hugs. My mum was a little upset their room didn't have a balcony and their room faced the bins so they didn't really want to open the window either so were trying to see if they could change rooms. We took them down to the beach to chill out on their first day.

The next couple of days were spent doing much the same, mum and dad were staying in an all inclusive hotel so we left them to have our own dinner and they joined us after for some drinks at one of the bars on the strip where we could play cards and watch cute little old couples dancing to some Spanish disco music. 

Adam and I had only been away about a month but it felt a lot longer and it was great to see them and I'm glad they got to have a nice relaxing break.

Adam & I

My mum & dad

 Sunny views in Santa Susanna

Monday, 8 July 2013

Mont Serrat

Monday 3rd June 2013

Just outside of the city of Barcelona is Mont Serrat, a mountain named after the serrated edge of a saw due to it's jagged edged appearance. We knew there was a monk's monastery at the top so we took the van for a very slow drive up the steep accent. The drive up was cool but a bit scary as the road was right on the edge of the mountain cliff face with a sheer drop over the edge. Obviously there was a concrete barrier between us and the drop but because you could see all the way down it felt like the van would just swerve off of it's own accord any second. The view was incredible though. 

The highest peak is 1236m above sea level and it's not considered to be a very high mountain but because it rises abruptly up from the river with no other peaks around it, it seems higher than it is. 
Photo from Wikipedia

We parked up and walked a short distance to the Benedictine Abbey that is home to 100 or so monks that still run one of the oldest publishing houses with the first book published in 1499. It is also home to the first boys boys choir in Spain. When we got to the abbey there were a lot of people making their way to the door so we went along with them. It was because the choir were about to commence their daily performance and even though it's quite a large abbey it was packed with people squeezing in and trying to push through the doors when they couldn't fit. It was too hot and squishy for us so we didn't hang around but I'm sure they sounded very angelic.

There are a few walks you can take without having to have any mountain knowledge and be worried about getting lost, they take from half an hour to a few hours and you just follow the path round the mountain so we took the shorter of these to see the views. 

View looking out from the abbey

View of the abbey from round the mountain
We found out that inside the abbey there is a statue of a black Madonna which explained the two hour queue into the abbey that we saw to go and touch it. Apparently this is good luck. The statue has a black face and hands which could be due to overexposure from candle smoke or a vanish used on the wood. It is viewed as a bit of a magical statue and the legend is that it was found in the mountain by monks and they could not move it to their monastery so they built one around it. We stayed wondering around everything for so long that we found much later there was no queue at all to go see it so went to see what all of the fuss was about. It was much smaller than I imagined!

I'm not a religious person but I liked the stories that went with the building and the area such as the hermits that used to live up the mountain and would build their houses out of stone on the cliff edges. We could see the remnants of one of their houses looking up from the abbey. No idea how they got up there!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Barcelona museums and parks

Sunday 2nd June 2013

We found out that on the first Sunday of every month most of the bigger museums have free entry, and with most of them costing between 8 and 15 euros per person we saved quite a bit on the two that we visited. 

Firstly we visited The Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat which is right in the middle of the city. The museum is housed in a Gothic palace dating back to the 15th century. However the palace wasn't always in this location, in 1931 it was moved stone by stone to where it now stands and whilst excavating work was taking place for the new foundations a Roman city was discovered in the earth below. The museum is now home to the excavated ruins and is the main attraction. A lift on the first floor takes you down into the ground to the ruins and as you descend a clock ticks back in time to the time when the Romans ruled. 

I personally quite like things that have been dug up from thousands of years ago and have been preserved really well and it was like being on a episode of Time Team (which I am not ashamed to admit I do occasionally watch!). There was a glass walkway over the excavated streets so you could walk around and see them whilst still being preserved. You could see where entrances to the buildings would have been quite clearly from the walls that where still there, as well as pillars, sewage drains and roads that still had groves in them from the wheels of carts that would have been pulled up and down the streets all those years ago. There was the remains of a tower that would have been used as a look out post to protect the city and the Romans liked to reuse their building materials so in the walls of the tower you could see materials that had quite obviously come from different buildings. The buildings included private houses, laundry and dyeing workshops and wine and fish sauce factories. The Roman city was founded in 10 BC and was called Barcino. 

Giant basins stained red from storing wine in Roman times

Reused building materials in a Roman tower
We wondered over to Port Vell after coming back up to the surface from the Roman ruins to the heat and sunshine of the streets above. Thinking that people today are still doing pretty much the same things that they would have been doing all those years ago on the streets hidden below, walking around shopping at markets, going about their daily lives and drinking wine. 

Port Vell used to be an old run down, obsolete harbor and home to just a few warehouses, a rail yard, refuse dump and industrial buildings, nothing that would attract tourists. When Barcelona was selected as the host of the 1992 Olympics the area was transformed and now it is full of expensive yachts and is a popular tourist destination with a massive wooden bridge taking you from the famous La Rambla to Rambla der Mar with restaurants, a cinema, shops, an aquarium and lots of bars. The pedestrianised area also gives you a good view of the Columbus monument.

The only surviving warehouse (and it is quite an impressive brick building, not like the corrugated warehouses we have today) is now home to the Museu d'Historia de Catalunya which is organised with chronological displays of the history of Catalonia from cave man days to present time. The museum was huuge and while I started out with the best intentions to read all the information that was presented with the big life like displays of the first signs of life in the region, I couldn't concentrate on all of it. But Adam was impressed with the system they came up with to water their fields and I was impressed with the weight of a suit of armour that I tried to lift by pulling up the other end of a rope a suit was tied to. I was pretty hot and irritable wearing just a breezy summer dress in not even height of the summer temperatures, I don't know how they fought people in those massive heavy pieces of metal!

Trying to lift a full suit of armour. My feet left the floor at one point!
Adam testing out the complicated watering contraption that farmers used to use to water their crops

After all that education we were pretty knackered so walked over to a park that we had visited briefly when we were last in the city for a lie down in the sun. Turns out we are pretty lucky at stumbling across things as there was a lot going on in the park that day. The entrance was filled with little kids all being given cups of water that they poured into weird contraptions, they seemed happy to play with it, I was just pretty thirsty at that point. There were a few small stages dotted around the park with people playing music on them, massive bunches of balloons were being sold and the park was packed with people sunbathing, busking, using the free WiFi accessible in the park, dancing and slack lining between the trees.

As soon as we had found a shady spot under some trees, a marching band drums past followed by these guys...

They are known as 'Giants and Big Heads' and I don't know much about them other than they are used quite a lot in festivals or when celebrating or having parades. They have papier mache heads and a wooden structure covered by clothes so that a normal sized person can wear it and make them look really tall. They danced as well which was pretty funny.

Other things we saw in the park that day was a game of human towers, which is a sport they take quite seriously and looks like this...

But on a slightly smaller scale. Then a ring master from a circus strolled past us shouting a lot of exciting things in a language I didn't understand and he was followed by a man in a human size hamster wheel running around (dressed as a hamster of course). I'm only slightly sure that this was just a normal Sunday in a park in Barcelona and not a massive trip on some sort of hallucinogenic. 

The best part of the day was moving to sit in the sun and listening to a few guys playing bongo drums on the bench opposite. Most people were just sitting around half listening, some people dancing a little bit. Gradually more and more people started to sit on the hill around us and people walking past stopped to listen and about an hour later there was over 200 people sitting, standing or dancing crazily to these guys playing their drums and cheering them on. The noise attracted other people in the park with their own drums so the band expanded and people bought tambourines and didgeridoos to join in. We went and bought some beers and sat and listened for quite some time.