Oct 27, 2019
Today we tried to get to Spain but were stopped by thunder, lightning and a ton of rain so we had to book a hotel. I am finishing this post in Spain. We ended up bussing to Spain because the train aren’t running for 10 days. Yesterday we went to the beach. We had to leave a little early so that we wouldn’t get caught in the protests. The reason the people are protesting is because they want the Provence of Catalonia to be a separate country from Spain because the have a slightly different language and different culture
Oct 27, 2019
On every long voyage (and many smaller ones), there’s a moment when the best-laid plans go awry, itineraries get disrupted, Mother Nature wreaks havoc, and/or logistics get log-jammed. That’s when a trip becomes an “adventure”.
You can’t predict when you’re going to have an adventure. (But blogging about how your trip has been going smoothly is likely a good trigger for the karmic gods to mess with your journey!)
Adventures tend to be what we remember, though, even if they give us grey hairs at the time. I still recall an ill-fated expedition to renew my visa while living in the Czech Republic that involved a bus trip from Prague to some obscure border town, a break down in the snow, and a futile scramble to make it back to the city (without a new visa) before I was meant to teach my ESL class.
That’s just a segue to say: We had our first real adventure of our trip.
By week six of our travels, we had entered France and were enjoying what felt like the doldrums, especially once we settled in Saint Remy de Provence for a week. We slept in, we ate well, we did one or two activities in the afternoon, and then played ping pong or read on the patio in the Provençal sunsets. One day led smoothly into the next. A couple late-night storms and cloudy days reminded us that autumn was well upon us, but nothing to disturb our serenity.
The forecast called for several days of rain as we headed off to Palavas les Flots, on the Mediterranean coast, but when we arrived on a Saturday afternoon, the sun was out and surfers were riding the waves on either side of the town’s canal. The next day was more overcast and windy and a full-on gale swept through overnight, rattling awnings and driving the current of the canal back up-river. I double-checked on our rental car, parked a few minutes away in a municipal lot, to make sure it wasn’t getting flooded. The next day, it rained but we avoided most of it with a relaxing day trip to Espiguette Beach — a huge swathe of duney sand and sea (only AJ dared to take a plunge) and then an excellent aquarium (or rather “Seaquarium”) in Grau de Roi.
Then the next day the heavens exploded. First, massive thunderstorms illuminated the sky and shook our Airbnb over night. And then sheets of rain poured down for most of the day. AJ, Briar and I tried to venture out in what seemed like a break in the rain, to dump recycling and check on the car again, but we were soaked through within minutes.
Palavas is surrounded by canals that branch off the Rhône, and the highways out were already collecting water before the rain really started falling. I asked our AirBnb host, a tourism centre guide, several police officers, and even the woman at a nearby bakery if we’d be able to drive out the next day. Does Palavas ever get locked in by flooding? (I’d also googled the town and found an article about how likely it was to be severely affected by global warming.) Non, it will be fine, they all assured me. If you can’t get out the direct route, there was an alternate that would only add 10 or 15 minutes to Montpellier.
The rain tapered off a bit that night, although the lightning returned, and then the rain started again. We scrambled to leave as soon as possible. The car needed to be back in Montpellier train station for 10am, but we wanted to get there even earlier… We packed up the car, dodged a few major puddles leaving town and enjoyed a relatively brief window of rainless sky for the drive to Montpellier. Car dropped off. One less worry.
But then we crossed the street to the Gare Roch station and saw that the earlier train to Barcelona had been delayed by two hours… it hadn’t even left yet. Ours wasn’t set to leave until 1:40pm so we hoped we could be fine. We were wrong. A glance at the departures/arrivals screen showed extending delays and cancellations for almost every train. And then the skies broke open again… and unleashed more rain and wind than I’d every seen before. Some locals video’d the deluge from the safety of the station’s high ceiling… although that soon began to leak. Other travellers sat and cried, either due to cancelled connections or the explosions of thunder that ripped overhead. Finally, the arrival/departures screens just went blank.
We joined the line of puzzled travellers and learned that no more trains wold be running today, so we should switch our tickets till tomorrow. So we did, for a 9am train. We did a quick search and found a hotel nearby. We’d have to swallow the extra fee — we were already paying for an AirBnB in Barcelona — but we needed a place to stay. The hotel wasn’t far. In fact, I realized it was down the stairs and across the street. But when we rushed with our luggage in what felt like a slow-down in the rain, we arrived at the front desk as soaked as if we’d fallen into a wading pool.
The hotel was worth every Euro. The kids had hot showers and lounged in the fat white bathrobes. We were able to check the status of the storm — it was epic in other areas of southern France, especially Béziers, which had been hit with 4 months of rain, nearly 24 cm, in the span of four hours. We decided that perhaps a bus might be a better option, as it seemed unlikely the trains would run tomorrow morning… in fact, the staffer had said it might not be till Friday. Then I noticed a message online saying that the tracks had been undermined between here and the border and might not be repaired for 10 days—well, after we needed to fly home. Jenny phoned around to make sure the roads hadn’t been washed out too and then we booked seats on a a noon Flixbus for the next day and walked back over to the train station (the rain was finally calming by late afternoon) to get our tickets refunded.
Then we enjoyed a “bonus” visit to Montpellier… wandering through its big central square and park boulevards, and then through its old town, until we could finally complete a mission that the kids were fixated on since arriving in France: eat some authentic macarons! (We managed to sample flavours from the two best shops in town.) Then, after a return to the hotel, we went out for dinner (after much discussion and Yelp-scanning) and lucked in (after our first choice was closed) on a little French restaurant called La Tomate… where I completed a mission I hadn’t even known I’d accepted: try some frogs’ legs!
We had time to have a big breakfast spread and get packed up the next morning… and then suddenly hit the panic button again. I’d decided to book an Uber in advance, rather than a taxi. My mistake. The arranged time passed and passed. On my app, I could see the driver circling our location — 2 minutes away, then 3, then 4… If we didn’t get to the bus station by noon, our tickets were useless. I told Jenny to get the front desk to call a taxi as backstop and we thought about dashing to the station to grab one there… when our Uber arrived nearly 15 minutes late. “Get us to the station!” I yelled as we hurled our luggage into his trunk… and he did, with plenty of time to spare.
We’d paid extra to sit together on the bus, but the semi-chaos that is Flixbus rendered that fee meaningless. The two men in our seats said they’d bought assigned seats but the sullen driver had told passengers to just sit where they want, so they did. In the end, the kids sat a few rows behind us and we enjoyed a quick, sunny, smooth and quiet 4.5-hour drive from Montpellier to downtown Barcelona with the Pyrenees rising to our right as we crossed into Spain.
Once there, we grabbed an official cab and showed the driver the address of our AirBnb. The ride was faster and cheaper than I’d expected… but that’s because he’d dropped us at the address in Barcelona, rather than Llobreget Hospitalet, the suburb where we were actually staying. Thankfully, taxis are plentiful in the city and we jumped into a second one and (finally!) made it to our final accommodation of the trip.
In the end, we only lost one day in Barcelona and one night of AIrBnb fee, although we made a little money back by cashing out our pricey high-speed rail tickets for the bus. For our final three days, our trip has included and will conclude by negotiating our itinerary around the political demonstrations — which got violent last week — throughout the city (we took a trip to the beach yesterday but made sure we were back in our AirBnb before the 5pm rally that saw 350,000 Catalonian protesters take to the city centre) and two potential airport strikes (security staff and baggage handlers) tomorrow morning.
Only then will our adventure be complete…
Oct 26, 2019
We’ve seen many new things in our first two days in Barcelona . Day one we went to the Sangria Familia. I enjoyed listening to the audio guide while strolling through the majestic basilica. The beautiful stained glass, the tall columns,the statues,the lettering made it more and more worth it. Antoni Guadi was a Catalan architect with most of his structures in Barcelona, but some in other parts of Spain. He knew that he would not live to see the Sangria Familia complete, but he left lots of examples of what he hoped it would look like one day. During the last few months before his death he lived in the cathedral. On June 10 1926 he died in the Old Hospital de la Santa Creu, after being hit by a tram. The Sangria Familia is still being constructed to this day , but is estimated to be finished by 2026. We arrived at the parc Guell an hour later. We sauntered through the park taken notice of the noisy vibrant green parakeets, and the lush nature. We visited the Warden’s house,another Guadi creation. Before going to the metro we stopped by a souvenir shop and I gotta pretty Barcelona shirt. Because I love souvenirs! Today we walked along the boardwalk for an hour before jumping in one of the many magnificent beaches. We made sure to get back before the protest started at 5. We are planning to go out for dinner at a close by restaurant tonight. Which will be our first dinner in Barcelona but will be our last dinner in Europe. Adios amigos!!!
Oct 26, 2019
We knew we couldn’t avoid rainy weather for seven weeks, yet we had an astoundingly good run of sunny, warm days right until our final week. After leaving St. Remy de Provence after a week there, we drove to Palavas-les-Flots, a beach resort town about a 15-minute drive from Montpellier. Our new apartment was right over the canal there, so we could see people coming and going, fishermen selling their wares, cyclists and some pretty impressive thunder and lightning, or orages and éclats.
View from our balcony in Palavas les Flots.
We stil walked around cloudy Pavalas (a faded starlet kind of beach town, which I liked) and found lots to do: an aquarium in nearby Grau de Roi, nature trails, a museum devoted to cartoonist and artist Albert Dubout, a museum featuring the old train that ran for decades from Pavalas (originally a fishing village) to larger Montpellier.
Some pretty serious weather blew in and we watched the incredible light show from the stage of our upper-floor apartment. My favourite thing bout Pavalas, hands down, was the dozens of flamants rose, or pink flamingos. Briar and I have been running together and seeing them was a highlight. The birds were so exquisite: cotton candy feathers with fuchsia-dipped wings.
Unfortunately, the rain kept coming and turned into full-on flood for the area. We became very concerned about driving to return our rental car in Montpellier and catch a train to Barcelona. While we made it to Montpellier without finding roads washed out, we discovered that many trains were delayed or cancelled. Then the rain became truly biblical, coming down in sheets punctuated by epic flashes of lighting and claps of thunder. The train station started flooding. This Mediterranean deluge brought four months’ of rain to the area in a single day! We know rain, but this was incredible. Unfortunately, lives were lost during the deluge, which affected Italy, France and Spain.
We spent the day trying to figure out what was happening, what to do about it, and speaking not-great French. In the end, all trains to Barcelona and a few other destinations were cancelled that day and the next. In fact, no trains will run to Barcelona until November because tracks are under water. The train was out.
Le gare became chaotic with the flooding and distressed people crying. Fortunately, our children were basically glued to their devices doing homework and not concerned. We bought them Nutella pancakes, so they were not exactly suffering during the delay. Nutella is like a shared religion in the EU, which is fine with A.J. He could bathe in the stuff.
Briar ordered a salad with smoked salmon for our last dinner in France.
But anyway, we called a modern (and not cheap) hotel, Golden Tulip, that was three minutes’ away and we literally ran there with our suitcases. We still got drenched as if by sprayed by a fire hose. The kids were delighted to be a hotel room. We were not excited to pay for accommodation in both Montpellier and Barcelona that night, but we were safe and dry, so felt fortunate. We ended up going back and forth to the station for updates, eventually a refund, and trying to figure out if bus travel was feasible and safe. We fly home from Barcelona, so we had to get there somehow.
A.J. digs into tarte tatin.
Once the rain let up (several hours later) we walked around Montpellier, and bought two styles of macarons from two different places—one the kind of colourful jewels made with cream (pinks and greens and corals) and one organic and homey. We later ventured out to dinner, after feuding about where to go, only to find the one restaurant we agreed on was closed. We randomly chose a place called Le Tomate, which had inventive, delicious food. I had herring as an entrée (appetizer in France). It was served on sliced potatoes with carrot medallions and sautéed onion. It was so simple and tasty. David was determined to make his meal as French as possible, and even had frogs’ legs. For dessert, we all attacked (like group hunters with spears) two traditional desserts: tarte tatin and Dame Blanche, which was a bowl of cream, almonds, ice cream and warmed chocolate. The day ended well for us, and it was nice to see more of Montpellier, with its cobblestone streets and ironwork—but the experience was frightening. Sadly, we later learned that some people in affected communities were swept away by the waters and perished.
The next day, we took a bright green low-budget Flixbus to Barcelona, where the sun was shining. As we entered the city, we could see many Catalan flags hanging in windows and yellow ribbons in support of jailed Catalan independence leaders. A few days earlier, half a million people had marched to protest the long sentences given to Catalan independence leaders and there had been much unrest.
Sagrada Familia outside.
We are staying in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, a densely populated municipality of Barcelona, in a stylish apartment on the fourth floor. The current political situation is on our minds, but yesterday we travelled by subway to see Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, a basilica so unusual, towering and perfect that my eyes filled with tears as I looked around, bathed in the coloured light from the stained glass. A week earlier, the Sagrada had been blocked by protestors, but all was peaceful that day. From there, we walked to see Gaudi’s Parc Guëll, a public green space that was originally intended to be a housing developing for the wealthy.
The stunning basilica inside. It will be completed in 2026.
We spent six hours walking around and enjoying the sunshine. I admit that I did not know much about Gaudi, but found his work so intriguing. I have learned so much on this trip about politics, culture, art, architecture and even macarons. On that note, the second macaron shop in Montpellier we visited was family run and focused on traditional Provencal baking. The owner was there with his young daughter. He had lived in Vancouver, loved Vancouver Island, and said he had two favourite mountains in the world, one was in the Pyrenees and the other was Mount Baker, the peak we see everyday in Victoria, at home.
Oct 26, 2019
Our unexpected stay in Montepellier included a dinner at the Tomate, tasty macaroons, breakfast at the hotel and a calming walk. At the Tomate daddy insisted on ordering frog legs, little did he know that he would get a huge plate of them. Meanwhile mummy ordered trout with tapenade, as her main dish. And herring as a side dish. I ordered a salad which came with smoked salmon on toast, and herring. It was my first time trying herring, and I found it quite interesting. AJ had a salad and they’re famous tomato basil tiramisu. And we topped it off with a warm tarte tatin, and a Dame Blanche. Which was warm chocolate, almonds, ice cream and whipping cream. Before our meal we went searching for the best macaroons.First we got colourful macarons, that were filled with cream. We chose 5 flavours, vanilla something, chocolate, pralines rose, mojito, and something else. Secondly we went to another highly rated macaron shop. These macarons are made differently and are somewhat healthier. We got 5 different flavours and they were all delicious! It was impossible to choose a favourite. Then we burned of the calories by walking through the little town of Montpellier. The next morning mummy and I had a peaceful run through a couple local parks. After a quick shower we went downstairs to the breakfast. They served us petit tarte tatins baguettes,madeleines, hot chocolate, coffee, yogurt. Then they allowed us to have anything are heart desired at the buffet. So of course we had to have some pain au chocolat, croissants, fruit cups, freshly squeezed orange juice, pancakes and tons more. Once we were full to the brim we dragged our bellies upstairs. And quickly got ready. We made a good chose to take the bus because trains to Barcelona are canceled till November 4. Unfortunately we made a bad chose by taking an Uber that was 20 minutes late. We nearly didn’t make it to Barcelona again. After 4 hours and a half we arrived in Barcelona. But we still did not make it to our Airbnb because they are two Buenos Aires. And our taxi driver took us to the wrong one. So finally after 2 taxi rides and a long bus ride we made it to our place. Yeah!!!
Oct 23, 2019
After our stay in Provence we drove to Palavas les Flots, which is an hour and 15 minutes from Provence. It is a beach town with old colourful houses. Our Airbnb has two levels with the kitchen,washroom etc downstairs and our beds and tv upstairs. We also had a nice balcony which overlooked the canal. We read and worked well watching the harbour dogs attempting to bring death upon the pigeons. During our stay in Palavas we went to Espiguette beach. It is a big long beach. We did not plan on going swimming as we did not bring our swimsuits. But the water was surprisingly warm, so we waded as far as we could. Expect AJ who swam in his shorts! After we walked part way down the beach, before drying off and heading to the Seaquarium. The Seaquarium had lots of sea creatures such as, fish, turtles, sharks, creepy big eels, seahorses, sea lions,seals, crabs and more. I really liked the sharks as they swam above our heads. The eels were interesting but enormous and creepy. I would not want to see one of those well I was swimming! And of course the turtles were beautiful and emerald green. There was lots of fascinating fishes. The unicorn fish was cool. But it took us a long time to realize that the rock we were staring at actually had eyes and was a fish, though I don’t remember the name. My favourite part of our visited at the Seaquarium was the seal show. The seals would do little tricks and jumps for some fish. Then they put out four different shapes, and the seals were trained to go to a certain shape. I loved when one of the seals flopped a few metres across the floor, making the crowd laugh. They finished but jumping and turning in the air. It was very well done. Then we went back for the night. The next day mummy and I faced the rain and went running in the morning. And we thought that weather was bad, but later in the day it got much much worse. Along with more rain came tons of thunder and lightning. Forcing us to stay inside. Then we couldn’t stay inside anymore so daddy AJ and I went on little walk to get a baguette for our vegetable soup. After some lunch we got in warm clothes and watched some tv. We ended up staying inside all day, for we would be soaked within seconds if we went out. Finally we fell asleep to the sounds of pounding rain, thunder and lightning. The next morning was time to leave. We dropped of our rental car in Montpellier, then of to the train station. We were going to have to wait 4 hours for our train. But unfortunately the train got canceled till tomorrow and maybe till Friday, because of flooding in Béziers. So we booked a nice hotel a three minute walk from the train station. We got drenched even though we were only outside for 3 minutes! We are hoping to take the bus to Barcelona tomorrow so we don’t have to wait till Friday. Cross your fingers for good luck!