Cheers to Spanish hospitality

20 Mar

Hello friends everywhere,

The more we continue our travels the more we realize how much more meaningful our experiences are when we connect with others. This past week we have been especially lucky to make friends with many strangers, and be the receivers of their wonderful generosity. These kind people have made us love this country even more!

An hour after posting our last blog, we went to the local grocery store in the small village of Santa Maria d’Olo to stock up for a day’s worth of food. We had visited the store the previous evening and had enjoyed chatting with the owner, and upon our return we continued conversing with the very friendly Josep. One thing led to another, and before we knew it we had parked our bikes in his shop, he closed his doors early for the day, and we were in his car heading to his summer flat on the Catalonian coast! Our day progressed through a jam-packed itinerary as we were led through our energetic tour guides favourite spots. We enjoyed a beautiful drive through the mountains, taken to a restaurant on the sea and treated to a delicious paella and a bottle of Bull’s Blood (the brand of local wine), explored a castle, hiked along a seashore path, played chess and shuffleboard, and finished the night off at a disco. We spent the night in his flat by the sea and he drove us back to our bicycles in the grocery store, after he took us out for a hearty breakfast of toast and Catalan sausages. Realizing we had missed out on some travel time, he drove us in his delivery truck 30 kilometres out of town. We were so happy to meet Josep and enjoy a whirlwind of a day with him. Perhaps one day we will again spend time with him, as he sincerely offered us the use of his flat anytime in the future!

The next evening (and after a very wet night in the tent), we found ourselves in the home of another generous man. A man worthy of his name, Cesar, from Warm Showers, made us feel very welcome in his flat in Lleida. Cesar is a biology professor and also is very involved in increasing bike infrastructure in his city, so we had a lot of shared interests. He was originally from Madrid, so he could give us a very interesting perspective on Catalonian politics. Also, he also had spent 12 years studying in the States, so his English was excellent and so we could really have in depth conversations with him about these topics! Besides giving us access to his home, he also took us out for our first proper tapas meal at a classy place, which was nicely paired with the elegant company of his friend Teresa. The evening was incredibly lively and enjoyable, and went by much too quickly!

We continued on our way the next morning with the hopes of reaching the Ebre River, the biggest river in Catalonia and a very important part of the Iberian Peninsula (a.k.a. Spain & Portugal). Our day, like many others since our arrival in Spain, was spent on quiet rural roads surrounded by fields painted pink and white with blossoms of spring. However, the other aspects of spring resulted in us not arriving to the Ebro that evening. Instead, we got to witness one of the biggest downpours of our lives, thankfully from the comfort of a local bar in a tiny mountain village, which in itself was interesting… we think it might have been some sort of men’s society club and thus we watched the streets of this small town flood in the company of twenty 70-year-old men. And so, despite being clean and well rested from our time spent with Josep and Cesar, we had to take accommodation as our only other option was sleeping somewhere in a puddle. We checked in to the only accommodation in town, which was thankfully cheap, and we had the entire hotel to ourselves.

We woke up early the next morning, happy to see the sun shining, and we enjoyed an incredible descent to the Ebro River. The Ebro passes through a mountainous region of Catalonia and provided some breathtaking scenery. The beauty made cycling easy and, despite some very strong winds and sections with heavy traffic, we biked our longest day of the entire trip: 124 kilometres! Along the way we enjoyed other acts of hospitality: at the top of a large climb, we had tea and cake with a British couple (now living in Spain), and we cycled for a few kilometres into one of the main towns with a fellow cyclist who helped us find the best bike route. We camped on the Ebro Delta that night, taking refuge from the raging wind in a bamboo forest. We woke happily to see the wind had passed, and cycled around the delta that day. Unfortunately we did not see any migratory birds (something the area is known for) but enjoyed cycling extremely flat terrain on a sunny day through the fertile rice fields.

Changing gears, we left our rural Catalonian experience behind us and boarded the train for one of Europe’s biggest festivals (party, party, party)! The Las Fallas festival in Valencia (the province below Catalonia) is a street festival dedicated to welcoming spring. Hundreds of incredible cartoon-like effigies are built and placed in squares around the city. They usually have some social/political commentary, and many are several stories high; all were very artistically impressive. On the final night (which we were present for) all of effigies except one get burned at midnight… and when we say burned, we mean burned.
One of the fallas we saw burn erupted as a huge bonfire within a tiny square; we were close enough to feel the heat and see the flames licking the sides of buildings which the firefighters were actively dousing with water. At one point, part of the frame collapsed upon some light scaffolding! We could never imagine anything like this happening in Canada, and so we’re glad we could see something like this here! Clearly, many people enjoy such fire-y mayhVem. The entire old city was basically shut down from cars and FULL of people! The number of visitors was amazing. We felt the reality of the crowd early on in the day when we still had our bicycles and tried to navigate the streets with them… essentially impossible, although we did manage somehow! Accompanying all the people was a lot of noise from firecrackers, being set off at all moments throughout the city and certainly adding energy to the scene. Parades, performers and marching bands also randomly weaved through streets, resulting in some sort of incredible stimulus around each corner. What a night!!!

After the final midnight burnings, we wandered back to the flat of Vicent, another Warm Showers host who, in keeping with our theme of generosity, gave us access to his entire (beautiful!) downtown home. He made us feel incredibly comfortable, and offered us laundry, food, maps of the city, and in general the ability to enjoy a relaxing atmosphere. Once again, Warm Showers has connected us with another wonderful person and thus enabled another great experience.

Today we have been enjoying Valencia post-Fallas. We are impressed to see how well the city has already cleaned up, and it was absolutely fantastic to explore this place. The highlight was certainly the park that surrounds the old city; this corridor of green space was formerly the location of a river, which was diverted. In this park (which is 30 years old) is the “City of Arts and Sciences” which contains fantastic modern architecture. The “city” was inaugurated in 1998, and the buildings are now home to many of the city’s museum. It was really great to see these progressive and impressive projects! Valencia has been a great city to visit.

Tomorrow we head north again, to begin our pilgrimage of following the Way of Santiago to “the end of the world”.

Until next time,

Alec and Caitlin

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One Response to “Cheers to Spanish hospitality”

  1. Aunt Barb March 21, 2011 at 12:12 am #

    Even though I don’t respond to very blog entry, I do read every one, word for word. I love the descriptions and the events that you talk about and I am still in envy of the journey you are having. I, too. am getting excited about my trip along the Danube and have now purchased a bicycle so as soon as the weather gets warmer, I will be out on the roads!

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