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          With our traveling friends, we arrived in Spain after a wonderful ten days in France. One of the first things we noticed is that Spanish Spanish isn’t at all like California Spanish. In Castilian Spain they lisp. “Barcelona” comes out “Bar-thel-ona”. Urban legend has it that King Ferdinand had a lisp and everyone copied him. While probably not true, it is a good story. We decided the best job in Barcelona would be a “speeth thera-phist”.
          We picked up our car in one of the largest train stations ever. They said if the car we reserved wasn’t adequate for our luggage, and us they would find a car that was. And they did. But no automatic transmissions. Ours had six gears forward and one reverse. My long legs barely were able to work the clutch without hitting the steering wheel. I hadn’t driven a stick shift for decades but with a few stalls and dropped clutches; I got the hang of it.
          Our time-share was in Marina d’ Or, about three hours south of Barcelona. They have wonderful freeways but they are toll roads and the trip cost us about $25. The countryside looked a lot like California with low hills and lots of agriculture. The drivers know how to drive. Pass on the left and get into the middle lane as soon as possible, using your turn signals. Trucks are courteous and we saw no SHP (Spanish Highway Patrol).
          Marina d’ Or is a very large tourist development on the Mediterranean coast with about forty, four story buildings. Maybe a hundred or more apartments are in each building. At this time of year they all appeared empty, as were the restaurants. We were told that in just a few weeks the place would be packed with Spanish and German families. Marina d’ Or is hard to describe. If you are interested, Google it and see for yourself. You will be amazed.
          Again we were confronted with accommodations that were unexpected. The brochure promised a washer and drier. The washer was there and we found the drier was a wooden rack on the balcony. The water heater was just large enough to heat enough water for two quick showers. We learned to bathe in shifts. The parking garage was a dark dungeon with automatic lights that were only on for thirty seconds. To exit this cavern one has to insert your keycard and then run back into the car and drive up a very steep ramp in gear number uno before the gate closes. A challenge.
          We also learned that the Spanish like to party late into the night. This was, after all, a tourist area but the loud music and laughter kept some of us up most of the first night. The compensating perk was the view of the Mediterranean from our ninth floor unit. We could see the white sand beach curving in both directions for at least two miles.
          One day we drove two hours south to visit Valencia. The roundabouts and one-way streets did us in. As soon as we thought we were almost into the city center, we found ourselves in the port or out in the country. We asked several people for directions and were baffled by their pointing and smiling and rapido Spanish. Finally we gave up and found a shopping mall with a food court, replete with Burger King and McDonald’s. We opted for a Thai lunch.
          The inland mountains offered several excursions to towns built high up on the hills. There were castles overlooking the valleys and walls enclosing the towns. These were centuries old and offered their local specialties such as wine or cheese or truffles. I bought a small jar of truffles for five euros but its inexpensive price makes me wonder if a Spanish pig really rooted it out. I have yet to open the jar.
          Our week ended with us deciding to leave Marina d’ Or two days early and see what Barcelona had to offer. Like all big cities, Barcelona is huge, it takes weeks to really see the city and its culture. So we walked along La Ramblas, a pedestrian street with dozens of mimes dressed in outlandish costumes. For whatever you wanted to put in their dish, you could pose for a picture. We then boarded a “Hop-On-Hop-Off” bus for a day’s tour. We found that Rick Steve’s Guides are the new Michelin. Every tourist has one. The artist, Gaudi, had a big influence with many buildings in his “sandcastle” style of architecture. There is a famous church he worked on starting in 1882 that is still under construction.
          Barcelona is a clean city with over a million and a half very friendly people; at least the six people we met were friendly. There are huge plazas where the cars circle mammoth statues of Columbus or some long dead general. The cars and trucks go around at alarming speeds and move from one lane to the other with ease. There seems to be a traffic light every three of four blocks, the cars and mopeds try to beat the light and muscle into the next street.
At last we said “adioth” to Barthelona and Spain. Our flights home were long, boring and tiring. We arrived back in San Francisco exhausted but with many good memories of the French and Spanish cultures.
La Belle France
Norm Blackburn the_spectator083003.gif
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