Winter Quarters

New Years Day 2018 was sunny but very windy which sadly meant that the outdoor New Year Lunch – bring your own food, drink & BBQ – arranged by a lovely couple who are long-term stayers had to be cancelled. A shame as it sounded great fun.

In Spain Xmas Day is quiet and the main event is the Dia De Los Reyes – Day of the Kings.  This marks the arrival of Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar – the 3 kings or wise men of the Bible – at the manger in Bethlehem and their recognition of Jesus’ special status, an event the Christian calendar celebrates on 6th January. In Spain the Kings play a similar role to Santa – children write letters to them saying how good they have been and on the night of the 5th leave out a drink for them and food and drink for their camels. When they wake on 6th they find gifts have been left – it is the main present giving day rather than Xmas Day. On 5th January, towns and cities across Spain have evening parades celebrating the procession of the Kings – some featuring real camels and featuring on TV – and a feature is the distribution of sweets to the children.

So on the 5th we caught the bus into Vilanova for the start of the celebrations. We had a drink with people we knew from the site in the Placa de la Vila near the stage erected for the end of the parade ,then we headed off to the Ramblas to locate the fun. Our timing was good and within minutes the head of the parade, a float with a huge star, was passing by.  There followed half an hour of really enjoyable entertainment – floats carrying the star, the 3 kings, their 3 gifts, and a Father Christmas-like figure in his workshop were interspersed with jugglers, acrobats and musicians all in fancy dress. Kids and adults alike really enjoyed it.

At the end we saw the large containers filled with sweets that were going to be fired into the crowds on the main square – but we couldn’t linger as we had a reservation at Genito’s. We had visited this restaurant in June so avoided the delicious seafood we had eaten then and tried other tapas.  Pieces of toasted bread topped with tasty combinations such as cod with pickled guindilla pepper and black pudding, pimiento pepper & fried quail egg. Then Xato salad, a Catalan speciality of raw cod, anchovy, tuna, endive and a special Xato sauce;  and a juicy, chunky piece of cod with figs, foie & pistachios; and a surprisingly tasty Spanish version of sausage, egg and chips. With wine it still cost us less than a curry would at home – an absolute bargain.

Our Xmas colds kept ebbing and flowing so we had a pretty lazy start to the year punctuated with bursts of energy. We came up with an outline for our visit to England in March when we needed to have the van serviced and also plan a visit to Northern Ireland to visit friends & family. Booking the ferry at least made us feel organised.

Discouraged from venturing out by our colds and a spell of bad weather we have to admit to losing a day to a book we had downloaded –  Fire & Fury : Inside the Trump Whitehouse. We sat side by side devouring coffee and hot-chocolate and exchanging exclamations until we had finished it.  Absolutely fascinating – and entertaining.

Danny has continued to play boules on Wednesdays and Saturdays when we weren’t otherwise engaged and we both enjoyed the banter and camaraderie of these matches – 30-plus people turn up to each and are paired up. Pairs play 3 games, each against a different couple and the 2 most successful pairs play each other in a final. An entertaining 2½ to 3 hours and a good way to meet people. He is improving and feels like he is starting to grasp the tactics. Although he has yet to make the final his team did win all 3 of their games once.

We also continued to enjoy the walking group on Mondays and Fridays.  A  walk into the hills behind the site is nice,

and a couple of times we were driven to starting points away from the site. One of these was from near Vilanova lighthouse and took us to the outskirts of Sitges, down to the shore by the golf club and back to Vilanova along the coastline,  between the railway-line and the sea. Graffiti adorns the rocks in places including a large piece stating “GAYZONE” and we were told that the beach to one side (see bottom picture below) was the first official ‘gay beach’ in Europe. We have no idea how true it is but it’s a good story and the fact that Sitges is the ‘gay capital’ of Catalunya, if not Spain, seems to lend some credence to this.

Our favourite walk so far was at Castellet, inland. We all went by car on a beautiful but chilly morning, ice glittering where the sun had not yet touched. Up past the castle (UNESCO) and a lovely view of the reservoir below where morning mist was rising off the water. We walked  between ploughed fields and vineyards edged with ice-covered grasses,  through shady woods and back into the sunlight onto a rocky ridge clad in pines, tree heather and dwarf palms before dropping down again, crossing the reservoir wall and walking round the reservoir to return to Castellet. We saw a mink, swimming and running along the edge of the reservoir, plenty of wild boar sign along the way, cormorants skimming the surface of the water and lots of egrets and herons.

As well as boules and walking and exploring Vilanova further, by foot and by bike, we did catch the bus into Barcelona again and finally got to the Sagrada Familia, the ‘must see’ place in Barcelona. The largest unfinished RC church in the world and a modernist dream. We had booked tickets on-line – €22 each just to walk round with an audio guide –  it’s a lot to pay to go round a building site but the money does fund the ongoing work, projected completion date 2026!

The cathedral’s architect for the first 43 years, Antoni Gaudi, died in a tram accident in 1926 but left plans and models which are being used to guide the completion. Although not generally fans of modernist architecture we did think it was worth seeing, there is surely nothing else like it on the planet. The audio guide and the informative museum helped our appreciation of the carvings, sculptures and architecture and even we found some of it quite beautiful, particularly the interior  – the forest of tree-like columns arching into the roof high above and the light through the beautiful stained glass windows were highlights. Kate snapped happily away with the new camera.We’d love to put some of those pictures in the blog but unfortunately she hadn’t mastered the new camera and deleted them all instead of uploading them!! So here are a couple someone else on site took and kindly donated (thanks Monica).

On 13th of January there was a ‘correfoc’ in Vilanova, a traditional Catalonianian festival where ‘devils’ dance around and play with fireworks near to onlookers. The parade started at the top of the Rambla outside the church of St Antoni Abat with different groups competing with their fireworks, costumes, drummers and dragons or other figures which are centrepieces for the fireworks. It was an hour of fun – dragons spewed fire, devils danced, a marvellous beat from the bands of drummers mixed with the bangs and crashes of the fireworks and sparks flew everywhere. Children in devil outfits amongst the spectators lapped it up, and we all had to shelter from the sparks at times. No H&S here!

After the parade we went to a really nice tapas place called La Poperia where, after a wait, we managed to get a table.  Kate enjoyed a huge helping  of Iberico and a dish of  Galician octopus served hot and beautifully tender whilst Danny had crispy pork belly, black pudding, and pigs ears. The pigs ears were mainly cartilage and Kate wouldn’t touch them but Danny chewed away on them quite happily.

Of course none of this was planned. We expected be off on our travels again on 10th January with our replacement SD card for the sat-nav,  and a new battery fitted at the N&B Service Partner in Vic on 11th. As usual, nothing works out as expected. There have been lots of emails and phone calls with Travelworld/N&B and the result is that the SD card should now be with us by 24th, we still have a dud battery but will be getting it replaced at Travelworld when the van goes in for its service, checks and warranty work in March, and the list of jobs for TW is growing.

This means we will have only 4 weeks to get down to the southern tip of Portugal and work our way up to Bilbao, and we’ll be looking for hook-ups on our travels,  so not quite the leisurely exploration of Portugal we wanted, but c’est la vie! We have got to know some really nice and interesting people here in our winter quarters, got a much better knowledge of the area and have started to develop an appreciation for the different ways of living people have developed. We will miss the place and the people – but at the same time we have itchy feet and are looking forward to being on the move again.