Croissants and Cappucinos Along the Costa Brava September 2019
"Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape".
For Steve's Christmas gift last year I gave him the gift of coming along with me on an adventure (!). He is not so much a hiker guy as a water guy, but I thought the Costa Brava walk might blend our interests enough to make it fun for both of us.
We took off on flight destined for Barcelona, but with only a short time left until arrival time one of the engines stopped doing it's job. The Captain came on the speaker and awkwardly mentioned we would have to land very quickly in Dublin. The cabin was pretty quiet in those last 15 minutes until we finally touched down... on a runway lined with fire trucks.
450 people, all with plans, all with schedules waited, some patiently, some not so much, to hear what would become of our plans and schedules. Amazingly, in spite of what the media is telling us, people of all different colors, religions, cultures and ages for the most part smiled, offered helping hands, made conversations and found common feelings, common ground and humor to weather all the waiting and Iines and unknowns. And then...there was That Guy. Wirey, Tense, Twitchy. A Premium Class Guy. How do I know that? Well, because he made it known over and again as he went to the front of the Exodus sized line and vented and fumed about His time and His schedule and His plans. 449 other people's lives paled in comparison.
Steve has a far more developed sense of flex than I do. Today I was disappointed at the time we would lose from our planned trip...in another country that is still very far away from where we are. I'm not sure how or when we will get to Spain. HOWEVER... I am aware that sometimes planes that lose engines don't quite make it somewhere to land.
...And of course....humor always is a good attitude reset. So, when we got our key card to our room at the Dublin, Ireland, not Spain hotel and I opened the door to see a large naked African American woman, wide eyed and shocked looking at me... well... that's just icing on the cake. Icing on the cake.
So, tomorrow, hopefully, a plane large enough to take 450 of us, but maybe only 449 of us will take off and deliver us from Dublin to Spain and we will pick up and march on and adventure, as planned!
Spain - Day 2 and 3, Not Spain and Spain
I couldn’t even begin to write anything on Day 2 for day two. I thought if I had had the energy to write, the only thing I would have been able to say was “I. Can’t. Even.” But today, on Day 3, I have perspective…and we have Day 2 far enough behind that I can speak of it.
Day 2 began at 3:25 am, which was not optimal for many reasons, two of them being…. A) Day 1 - 2 was 24 hours long, awake, with tension due to airplane engine failure and emergency landings and such. B) Day 3 was going to be another very long one and we had no idea how it was going to go. The airline emailed us that we had a flight out with an estimated 12:45pm departure from Dublin to Barcelona. We decided to try to beat the rush of the 448 other passengers on the shuttle so we left the hotel at 9am. We didn’t beat the rush. Everyone was on the same page. We all wanted to get on with our trips. Another email arrive in short order with a 1:10pm departure time…quickly followed with a 2:00 time. There we all sat at gate 305 with no Norwegian Air plane in sight and no airline personnel to be seen. Around 1:00 the plane pulled up to the gate and some ground crew meandered around. By 2:00 the villagers were getting pretty restless. A couple of the passengers rose up as information gatherers and thankfully they were among my "new friends", so I was in the loop. At 2:30 one very lovely lady finally summoned airport security and let the officers know what was going on and that if something didn’t happen soon there might be some overflow of emotion and aggression. We soon found out from security that NO ONE AT THE DUBLIN AIRPORT KNEW THAT THERE WERE 450 PEOPLE WAITING TO GET ON THE PLANE WITH NO NORWEGIAN STAFF ANYWHERE ON SITE! As soon as that was brought to attention three Norwegian staff showed up and were greeted with a long and raucous ovation. And…it is worth noting again…. The overwhelming reaction from almost everyone was patience, humor and civility. However, the wirey, twitchy, pompous guy from Premium Class was still roaming about with an air of futile self importance.
We all quickly boarded and were on our way. Once in Barcelona, Steve and I found a bus to Lloret de Mar, having missed our first hotel reservation in Blanes, which was where we were to begin walking the Costa Brava trail. It was a 2 hour bus ride and we finally made it to our hotel around 9pm…exhausted and hungry.
Lloret is a big Euro party town and the tourist season is still in full swing. Getting a simple hotel room is tough unless you are ready to spend some money. Since all we needed was a place to sleep and get a breakfast I booked something that sounded ok. It was the “penthouse”… and by that, I mean it was at the top of 4 flights of stairs. When we walked into the room all I could do is say “I’m sorry” to Steve. I had no other words. It was something between an armpit and an ashtray. I’m not high brow at all…but this was the nastiest place I’ve ever stayed. Hand's Down. I covered the pillows with a scarf and didn’t unpack any clothes to avoid a possible infestation. Though there was no smoke in the air everything smelled like 10 years worth of butts. We grabbed dinner by the beach at some place that was part disco bar and part hooka lounge, however, it did serve up a fierce pizza. We were able to sleep pretty well, avoiding the center of the mattress which lay a good 4 inches below the surrounding edges.
Day Three - We woke at 7:00 and were ready to go check out Lloret. The streets are quiet and unbelievably clean in the early mornings. City workers were power washing and the beach was raked. The sun was rising over the castle on the point. I was so excited for Steve to experience what I had in 2017. After a marginal breakfast we left the Hostal Ancora and stepped into the Costa Brava in it’s beauty with no looking back.
Steve soon understood what I meant when I said that it’s all stairs and ups and downs. It was a point that was illustrated by a lot of stairs and ups and downs. After walking for an hour or so we stopped at the beach for a swim and rest. Glorious Cala Canyelles. But, there was 2.5 hours left to walk so we soon forged on. I thought that the hike/walk was hard for me last time I did it because I had just had a knee replacement. But, no. It’s still hard. We arrived in beautiful Tossa de Mar, checked into our clean and lovely hotel room and went to swim and nap at the beach. Tapas and a walk about town was followed with fresh bread, cheese and wine on the roof top terrace and we are now suitably exhausted.
Tomorrow is what hikers call a “zero day”. We will stay put in Tossa and enjoy the beach.
110 flights of stairs
Spain - Day 4
Restful. Peaceful. Grateful!
Day 4 was just a great day. The sunrise was spectacular. Steve caught it from up on the hill by the castle. I caught it from my bed through the open terrace door. Preferences. The Spanish people live by the late to bed and late to rise rule of thumb, so we wandered around by the beach for a bit until the best beachside cafe opened. After coffee and croissants we went back to the hotel for more coffee and croissants. Don't judge. We spent the day at the beach in and out of the water, walking through town, and just enjoyed not really having to be anywhere or do anything except find how we get to the next town. The GR-92 trail which we are following turns inland for a 13 mile rather uneventful stretch so we are opting to transport instead of hoof it. This late in the season the bus has stopped going that route so that left us with taking a taxi, but luckily I found a boat that will take us. Oh, and Steve enjoyed a gelato while get a fish pedicure. New experience. Comical.
Dinner was pretty noteworthy tonight. We shared a pumpkin and pear salad, grilled asparagus with shaved jamon and sea bass. No complaints.
Spain - Day 5 Tossa to Sant Feliu de Guixols
We stayed at a super cute pension which was at the foot of the castle and the old walled city in Tossa de Mar...very quaint. But a raw truth of that is that it is located behind many of the very nice, Michelin restaurants...which is fine...except they are very busy cleaning, emptying trash and prepping into the weeee hours. However, we never miss a great sunrise! Today's was spectacular...from my bed, out the open terrace door...same as yesterday. Steve wanted to get out for an early walk before we had to check out so I relented and we headed out into the quiet streets. We got a coffee and croissant (wow, how unlike us) and headed to the north end of town. Here the Cami de Ronda, the smaller portion of the coastal trail heads up into the wooded area above Tossa looking down to a brave, rugged-cliffed drop off to a beautiful sea below. The trail goes for about 1.5 hours to a small beach cove of Cala Pola but we cut out early and headed back to Tossa to pack up. Our boat left at noon for the town of Sant Feliu de Guixols...there is only one boat and no bus...so we couldn't miss it. The ride was an hour more or less. We hugged the coastline and could see all the coves and caves at the base of the massive red cliffs that were topped with pines and mansions. It is clear to see that Catalonia is flush with affluence . Two years ago when I was here there was the referendum vote for Catalonia to secede from Spain. The simple version was that Catalonia...fishing rich, tourist rich...basically California...didn't want to give all their taxes to the rest of Spain without something in return. So, I was here the vote went down...the Spanish government wasn't happy, there was some violence against the Catalonian voters and then there was a regional strike, a shut down of basically all Catalonia. Now, as we walk around town, coming close to the date of that original vote, we see some yellow signs and flags that seem to symbolize a recognition of the date of that vote and the violence that followed. I am looking forward to checking up with someone who can explain from a local view point exactly what has transpired since that time. Once landing in Sant Feliu, we checked into my favorite hotel,
Hotel Del Mar, changed into our swim suits and went to the beach for a nap and a swim. I later dragged Steve up to the monastery and a brief history lesson before we grabbed dinner at the market and set up a sweet meal on our terrace overlooking the old town.
As I write Steve is out in search of gelato and has texted me that he has had some success...hazelnut and coffee flavored. Tomorrow is calling for heavy rain. We are planning to gear up for the next leg from Sant Feliu de Guixols to Palamos.
Spain Day 6
Sant Feliu de Guixols to Palamos. ...phewww
Last night was the most horrific thunder and lightning I've ever experienced. We could feel them both. It was exciting but the sounds, plus the wind and the rain had me thinking about the wonderful segment of trail that we would miss if the weather continued throughout the day today.
By the time morning rolled around the lightning and thunder had stopped but the howling wind howled on with some spotty rain. We had breakfast, put on our rain jackets and pack covers and headed out to the trail.
The dramatic sky actually added to the great colors of the red rock and aqua water. ...and God was merciful throughout the day with only mildly heavy rain for a short time...nothing that made us look to take cover. And, a bit of a cyclone really thins out the crowd on the beaches and the trail! We were almost alone all day, even along the very long, tourist beaches...barely a soul.
The stretch to cover today was just shy of 11 miles, but the continual up and down stairs of various heights along with stretches of deep sand give the real feel about a 20 mile day. In 2017 I divided up this stretch and stayed the night at what would be the half way point. We had decided we would stop for lunch and a swim at the beach to break this day up. Those plans changed to be a cappuccino break instead.
The home stretch today was about a 2 mile boardwalk through Sant Antoni de Cologne beach...that seems to go on and on and on, and we were very happy to arrive in Palamos at our hotel.
Loving the patatas Bravas. Huge fans of the aiolli!
The pictures just don't do this place justice. It is stunning.
It looks like the total for the day is something around 11.5 miles and 32,500 steps and 78 "flights" of stairs climbed...
Feeling it all.
Spain - Day 7, Palamos to Llafranch
September 11, 2019
It was another blustery night and we left Palamos wondering what weather we might face today. We do now know the real difference between water resistant and water proof. We both apparently have the former and it would have been better to have the latter. It was a real gully washer...all day. However, it wasn't all together unpleasant. Today's terrain took us up and down stairs...as per usual.
We came across a beach that I had heard can have surf but was totally flat when I was here before. Today it had some waves and our guess was that they come from far and wide when there is something breaking. The trail wandered around some wide stone walkways and through an open field and wooded area then took a long up hill through pines with steady streams of muddy water coming down at us.
We stopped for lunch in the quaint fishing town of Calella Palafrugell and the sun began to break through. It was beautiful. A quick 20 minutes more and we reached Llafranch which would be our stop for the night.
Happy to get out of the wet clothes and into our bathing suits, we did some quick laundry in the sink and were down to the beach in no time to enjoy sun that, quite frankly, I didn't think we'd see today. It really was a great day!
Spain - Day 8, Llafranch to Tamariu
Well, I'm sorry folks. Today is the kind of day I just almost can't bring myself to write about. It was the kind of day that makes other days jealous.
We had a great night's sleep in Llafranch and Steve was out catching a sunrise and the first of several cappuccinos before I was awake. By the time I was up and around he was back with a buttery, flakey croissant and a cappi for me. We were out the door into the fresh, crispy morning by about 9:30 and the promise of only a couple of hours walking ahead.
Of course...per usual...stairs and other vertical surfaces were the halfmark of the day... so we got our workout on. Right out of Llafranch the trail heads up the equivalent of 32 flight of stairs... I think some of that is actual stairs and the rest was a kick ass vertical S turn road that leads up to San Sebastian light house overlooking, well, at that height.. all of Spain. The sunlight was stunning and the breeze brought relief. It was perfect and the view, as well as the climb was, breathtaking. From the top of the mountain the trail turns downward, basically running along the side of a cliff above the deep blue. It feels wild and free...and a tad sketchy at times....but mostly free. The light on the water was unbelievable...the kind of view that makes you feel small and you heart feel big all at the same time and we were all alone walking through the pines, winding our way downward...through some farmland and finally down through a narrow canyon that empties out onto a tiny, rocky cove.
When I was here in 2017 and came upon this cove and cafe I thought I could actually hear angels singing... in Spanish...and I could see them wearing little old lady house dresses and aprons... it was a total old country Spanish mirage, and I stopped to have a beer. Today though, the Cala Pedrosa cafe was cerrado, but we stopped for a back-pack-snack and made the most of it anyway. Steve decided that he wanted to jump in the water and take a swim. There were a couple of people in the cove so I asked him to be discreet when changing into his suit. He was out in the water in no time. Before he returned to shore several sweet looking old couples showed up...and I mean Showed Up...Adam and Eve didn't show up like these folks did. Geriatric Nudie Beach Party - weenies and buns! Steve and I had a good laugh at MY modesty issues!
One last push around the point and we were headed into Tamariu, which was one of my two favorite places ...well...maybe 3 favorite places on this coast. I was feeling all the joy of the weather being favorable, because this place is a total delight. We passed the beach diving board that I was too chicken to jump off last time and I could tell Steve was loving it all as much as I had and was.
This hotel was the most "high brow" place I stayed in 2017 and it is perfect for Mr. Hougard's birthday stop, part one. We will stay here two nights and then have our last hike day on his actual birthday then a nice dinner in the small medieval town of Begur.
We arrived too early too check in so we went over to the market for some lunch items and ate on a bench above the beach and followed up with a couple hours of swimming and sunning and....diving off the diving board, which was epic. There were some Steve aged guys jumping off the diving board...like little girls. Steve climbed up and did a back flip and all those little girly men had to climb up and do the same... and they did. But we got a chuckle about how boys do what the other boys do. That's usually how a whole lot of mischief starts.
Anyway...so back to the day being amazing. While in the shower and catching a rest, Steve returned with some pate, a fresh baguette, Spanish olives, pesto, some shaved ham and a bottle of wine. I sat all fresh and clean, overlooking the terrace with a huge fig tree, dropping fresh, crusty crumbs on myself as I typed about a day I felt I couldn't even talk about in front other people. ...sorry. It must have just slipped out.
ps...took a walk at sunset and a last minute dive into Can Tonet for a huge bowl of steamed mussels and patatas Bravas and we are feeling fat and happy.
And thus completes the unmentionably fabulous day....that I can't even talk about.
Spain - Don't know what day it is
We enjoyed our down day in Tamariu and the pedometer showed 1 mile for the whole day....which was just fine with me. Yesterday, our last walking leg of the journey was from Tamariu to Begur.
In 2017 I only made a couple of small mistakes with the trail and none of them were difficult to get back on track. However, the biggest mistake was to take the longer route from Tamariu to Begur. There was a tremendous amount of vertical climb on this leg of the walk so adding another 2 hours unnecessarily was not the mistake I wanted to make again on this trip. I was able to figure out where I went wrong last time and from the fork in the road, we chose the 23 minute more route over the 2 hour more route. Even with the shortened route we covered 97 "flights" over 6.8 miles, some of which was a hand and foot effort up a rocky cliff...a physical feat to be sure.
Reaching the summit of the day we were able to turn around and not only see Aiguablava beach were we had stopped for a break that morning, but also far off in the distance we could see Plaja d' Aro where we had been several days before and our starting point was beyond that. It was remarkable to look back and see how far we've come and couldn't help but laugh that what can't be seen is the winding and climbing stairs upon stairs that make up that trail.
Leaving the summit, the trail winded along the spine of the cliffs overlooking the sea. It felt vast and wild. The breeze was a perfect antidote to the hot, sweaty climb we had just finished.
Soon the trail turned down to a road that quickly led us down into the medieval town of Begur. The streets were lined with huge fig trees hanging with fruit for the taking. Delicious.
Begur is an interesting contrast to the seaside fishing villages we have been in. This small town has ties back to the Caribbean, sharing a piece of it's history with Cuba. You can see the Cuban influence in some of the architecture that was brought here by the so-called "Indians" or "Americans". These were the natives of Begur who emigrated to Cuba at the end of the 19th century by following their business there, they returned to Begur as rich, happy, rum lovers. They built their new and exotic, colonial style houses next to the small, more humble stone huts of their parents, intermingled with the stone walls and turrets of the castles. It's an interesting mix but it works. It's beautiful and we enjoyed wandering around in the streets and narrow walkways in the late afternoon. The small streets were quiet as all the other people in the town were in cafes in the center plaza enjoying the other benefit of the Cuban influence, the Mojito.
Yesterday was Steve's birthday so a nice dinner was in order. When I was here before I ate at the Michelin star AiguaClara restaurant and thought it would be a nice place to try again. Just like last time, the food was phenomenal and we were full and satisfied (and tired) when we made it back to the hotel to crash. This hotel, by the way, the Hotel Hanoi (funny name) was one of my faves on the last trip. I love everything about it.
On the walk back to the hotel I was telling Steve about a little cat friend I had made that sat in the window sill of a house across from the hotel. Low and behold, there he was two years later. Sadly, he didn't seem as excited to see me as I was to see him. When I reached out to say hello, he gave me a firm "NOooo".
The day ahead is laden with possibilities as we have another full day to explore Begur and the surrounding area....
Spain- September 16... Maybe that is day 10...
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” –T.S. Eliot
Too far is relative. Some people have trouble leaving their homes... Some don't like to drive at night. Each of us has that line which crossing over means things get clenchy and uncomfortable. I think the growth comes when we step over the line.
Yesterday, I stepped over one of my lines. It was clenchy. I'm not a big fan of the motor scooter, motor bike, maybe even the electric bike. Maybe it's not the scooter itself but all the cars that want to speed around the scooter that gives me issues. ...or maybe it is the stories and videos of people on vacation with road rash head to toe. Be that as it may, it still seemed like an ok idea to rent a scooter and ride to some of the surrounding towns near Begur yesterday that were not in walking reach. So, we did and off we went. clenched. We were able to visit Peratallada and Pals which are both wonderful old walled cities where every turn on the little walking roads is a great picture. The farm land around this area is mostly rice...which struck me as odd, but it explains the "rice casserole", paella deal. In the late afternoon sun...with a couple of copa de vin in me, I could relax enough to enjoy the ride back to Begur only squeezing Steve occasionally to let him know we were over my speed/nerve threshold.
We finished off our time in Begur last night at L' Autentic restaurant where we had the best Spanish olives, patrón peppers, patatas Bravas and goat cheese salad and we said goodbye to Begur early this morning on the bus to Girona.
An early arrival in Girona meant that we were able to get into the old part of town before most tourist were up and around which was really nice. The gothic district is shadowy and moody and really cool. We took way too many pictures and none of them really capture how it feels.
Steve is out now hunting down another cappuccino while I write this. This evening I will go through my already small selection of clothes and decide what I will send home with him to lighten my load for the next segment of my journey. Solo.
I love traveling alone, but spending this time with Steve has been so much fun. We have not had this much time together alone in over 24 years. We've bickered and settled in and laughed and rediscovered the fun and funny that was a foundational part of being drawn together to begin with. As we walked, some miles we chatted and shared with one another and some miles (in pouring rain and up thousands of stairs) we each put our heads down and summoned strength and fiber. We've suffered each other's prickly aspects and celebrated the positives. I'm excited for my solo journey starting tomorrow...but I'm so thankful that I get to come home to Steve. Thanks buddy for all your support and encouragement that gives me the wings to do what makes my soul sing.
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