Our first week in Cotignac

We’ve been in Cotignac for just over a week – what on earth have we been up to?

Honestly?  Not much but in a good way.  We’ve been on a few walks around the small town, on occasion had our lunch on the very sunny terrace, played with the lovely Lucky cat and generally settling into a new and relaxing routine.

Rather boringly, we both want to tone up a bit and lose a little extra weight.  Just like everyone else at this time of year!  All in all we’re just enjoying being.

We will be exploring the local area as we settle down, and I’ll be writing about these excursions on our blog.  But we won’t be writing so frequently as we also plan to do not much at all in between!

I sign off on this very brief update with some photos of the beautiful Lucky…

Bye for now xxx

Journey to Cotignac

I’m getting a bit behind with my postings as we have been in France now for a week ☺️.  So without further ado, let me tell you how we got here….

We left L’Estartit on the 2nd January with a view to have an easy two day drive to Cotignac.  We had decided not to spend more time travelling in France for a couple of reasons, finding campsites that are open in winter and then sites that have toilet seats and paper (unlikely) and heated shower facilities, also a bit of a challenge.

We also decided to use the very expensive French Peage (toll) roads which would cut our journey time by about half and avoid us using the frankly badly maintained roads going through every small town or village that would be the alternative.  Gosh I am painting a bad (but true) picture aren’t I?  But compared with Spain the French non-toll roads are bloody awful – so many roundabouts.

Our first planned overnight stop was at a site outside Beziers.  We arrived at lunchtime and I’m so glad we did.  The reception wasn’t open which isn’t unusual, so we parked up and took a quick look around.  The shower and toilet block was essentially an open sided Barn with saloon style doors opening out to the outside.  It’s January for God’s sake, even in Southern Spain it gets nippy at night.  I can’t imagine anyone but the most (fool)hardy would want to shower outside, as this was what was essentially on offer.  The washing up facilities (also outside) were dirty and had no water, hot or cold.  The toilets as expected had no seats but there was toilet paper, Whoopeee!

We had a quick conflab and decided if we got a move on, we could reach the site we had earmarked for the following night, before it got dark.  With a screech of our wheels we got the hell out of there, hoping that the next site would be better.

Luckily it was.  We arrived around 4:30pm, met by the lovely owner who gave us a great spot near the heated shower block.  So glad because boy was it cold and blowing a gale.  The site overlooks the Étang de Berre, near a small town called Saint-Mitre-les-Remparts.  As we had arrived a day earlier than we had planned, we had the following day to take a walk and look around.  The beach opposite the site was beautiful in a cold winters sort of way.

We came across the sheep (top and bottom left above) on our site being ‘herded’ by a couple of bored looking teenagers and an enthusiastic dog.  The sheep were obviously used to this and seemed unphased when we found them later grazing on a grassy bank on the site.

We walked into the village proper, much of which was old and picturesque.

We were intrigued by the old outdoor wash house (top left) and the open drain that run from it behind the houses and eventually out of the old town (below left).  Some of the houses backing onto the drain had sluices which we initially thought might have been diverted water into the homes.  That was until it dawned on us that the water coming from the wash house when it was in use, would be dirty and the sluices behind the houses were more likely to have been used to get rid of dirty water and probably sewage.  It was after all an open drain and it was hundreds of years ago when these were built and used.  Must have got pretty ripe back then.  Lovely now though!

We also found a café via google maps here which also felt like taking a step back in time.  We opened the door to have the half dozen men drinking wine and spirits (it was around 11am) turn round to give us a good look before carrying on their conversations.  The air was thick with smoke, no wimpy EU directives outlawing indoor smoking here.  Wouldn’t have been that surprised if some of the customers were off duty policemen.  We stayed for an average tasting cup of coffee and left.  I had to wash my hair to get rid of the smoke smell.  Enjoyed the experience though, quite amusing!

So having had an interesting stop, we left in the morning of the 4th to meet Andrea in Cotignac that afternoon to start our house sit.

Figueres and just a little surrealism

Please forgive the tardiness of this posting, we visited Figueres on the 30th December and since leaving our base in L’Estartit on the 2nd January, we have experienced rubbish internet connection. We are now safely and cosily based at our house sit in beautiful Cotignac for the next 3 months with excellent internet connection!

So to catch up on our adventures, like I’ve just mentioned, we visited Figueres as 2018 drew to a close. We spent the day at Dalí’s Theatre and Museum, what a fantastic place!  Eric had been here 30 years ago but couldn’t remember much.  We both knew some of Dalí’s surrealist work, the melting clocks for example, but it was for me at least, wonderful to see a wide range of his work in different media in one place.  An amazing artist.

If you go to Figueres, I advise you book tickets first ☺️. We didn’t, and so waited in line for 30mins to get a ticket and a further 45mins for our time slot to get into the museum.

 

It was packed in the museum and difficult at times to take photos without someone shuffling in my way.  There were even human traffic jams in places where we couldn’t move at all!  That was a shame as it did spoil some of the experience.

I’m no art critic, so will show you some of the pictures I took of his work and let them speak for themselves….

These were taken inside the enormous central courtyard of the museum:

 

Examples of some of Dahí’s wonderfully detailed miniatures and works in different styles…

 

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Some ink drawings….

 

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The man himself and paintings of his wife Gala…

 

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Other works in varied mediums…

 

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We also visited the jewellery exhibition.  A word about his pieces here.  In Dalí’s words, he created jewellery to express beauty rather than simple utility.  To please the eye, give pleasure, to encourage imagination.  In this way, he explains, we the viewers, give the designs life and meaning. What do you think?

 

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That’s all folks!!

 

 

Girona

Whilst staying in L’Estartit, we decided to spend a day in Girona, about 25 miles away.  Earlier this year we passed Girona on our way to France and at the time said we wanted to come back and explore.  So here we are, but only for one day.

Girona is one of the major Catalan cities, only 40 minutes by express train from Barcelona. We did some research and decided what we wanted to see whilst here. Luckily, unlike Barcelona, Girona’s centre is small so we could take in the sights and atmosphere in a nice relaxed way.

The city’s Cathedral dominates the skyline being built on raised ground.  There are 86 steps leading up to its main entrance but the building itself isn’t imho very impressive.  See what you think….

Do you recognise the picture of the cathedral steps?  Apparently locations around Girona were used to depict the free city of Essos in season 6 of Game of Thrones.  I haven’t been watching the series but apparently this is true! 

Behind the Cathedral is the old medieval fortifications consisting of a long wall interspersed with towers. The views from here over the city are supposed to be great, unfortunately the day we visited was overcast so the mountains in the distance are very hazy.

The wall and towers had been extensively repaired, sadly with modern looking red brick which spoils it but it at least clearly shows what was original and what isn’t.

Mid morning we stopped for coffee and indulged in a local delicacy; Xuixo (pronounced shushu).  It’s a deep-fried, sugar-coated cylindrical pastry filled with crema Catalana, naughty but very nice…

Xuixo, Girona

We meandered through some of the city streets …..

Before crossing the river Onya lined with colourful buildings.  Although there are many bridges over the river, the most well known one was built by Gustave Eiffel just before the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  We crossed the river to the Plaça de Independència named after the Spanish war of independence against Napoleon. 

We also strolled through the old Jewish quarter which remains well preserved considering the Jewish community was expelled or forced to convert way back in 1492… in effect what we saw was some well preserved medieval city streets….

Some more eccentric things to see was the lion’s arse, which if you’re so minded, you can kiss to ensure a return visit to the city.  Really.  Not in my universe.  The mural/graffiti is painted on the side of an old people’s home….

I’ve mentioned seeing lots of yellow ribbon symbols of the Catalan Independence movement, along with the Catalonian flag.  Here are a few examples…

And a heartfelt plea from the locals…

Girona

There it is, the reminder that tourism has its negative as well as positive points.

Two things have stuck out about Catalonia that mark it as different from where we’ve been further south; the food and the language.  On the food front we’re back to eating hearty mountain fare – sausage and bean stews, grilled meat and the local cannelloni.  But it’s the language that’s surprised us the most.  We expected Spanish with a bit of Catalan but what we got was mostly Catalan.  Menus, road signs, opening times, days of the week, ordering a coffee (café amb llet anyone?) etc etc all are very different from Spanish.  It’s no wonder there’s widespread support for their independence – it already feels like a different country…

So that concludes our Girona visit.  We really liked the city, much more compact and manageable than say, Barcelona which was amazing but huge!  We are liking Catalonia in general and hope to come back to explore the whole area a bit more. One to put on the list…..

In my next blog I’ll show you what we saw when we visited Figueres at the Dali Theatre-Museum. Ta ta for now…..

 

 

 

 

L’Estartit

Christmas Day, Vilanova i la Geltrú

Ah the simple joys of Christmas!  Instead of an orange and some nuts in his stocking, Santa gave Eric HP sauce and Branson pickle.  Good times…

So Christmas Day was nice and quiet.  We caught up with the boys and spent the rest of the day cooking, eating and chatting to some camping neighbours.

So in leaving Vilanova we are very confident we will return so we can spend more time to explore the area.  But for now we need to move on.

Our journey to L’Estartit took us through some spectacular countryside as we headed north through the Sierra de Monterrey.  It was foggy patches on lower ground until we broke through to brilliant sunshine as we gained altitude.  We knew we were in real mountain country when we saw a wild boar at the side of the road; as roadkill sadly 😢.

Very pretty part of the world.  We were getting a really good feeling about this area. As we approached the outskirts of Girona, we noticed far more yellow ribbons, the symbol of the support for the Catalan Independence movement.  Painted on the roads, painted on walls, ribbons on trees, lampposts: everywhere.

Our new campsite is near a very popular diving resort in the summer and Eric has been here before – 31 years ago – to go diving off the little islands off the coast, the Illes Medes.  On our first day we cycled into town to enjoy the cliffs and island views…

The town itself is very touristy so with it being December, a lot of it is closed for the winter giving it a desolate feel.  Still, the sun is still warm and bright though the air cool.

The campsite is small, clean and neat.  There are plenty of places to go walking, cycling and visiting. 

On one cycle ride we headed a bit inland and then back to the coast a few kilometres from our campsite to a pretty beach at the estuary of the River Ter.  This part of the coast had always been marsh land with frequent flooding.  The town of L’Estartit, once a small fishing village, has now a concrete marina to a) cater for its main income – tourism, and to protect the town from flooding as much of it is at sea level.

Away from the town centre, at the beach where we went for our cycle ride, there is ongoing work to help stabilise the natural sand dunes, which are apparently one of the few surviving examples in Catalonia.  On our visit, we saw large amounts of wood and bamboo piled up on the beach.  It could have been a result of a storm, the debris had been scraped up into banks. I suspect it being used to help to encourage the build up of sand to create new dunes, who knows?

We came across a closed for the winter ceramic shop with a curious plaque outside with information about a strange Catalan tradition: El Racó de Caganer, translated as The Great Shitter.

The Great Shitter

It’s traditional to put one of these in your Christmas crib to bring good luck and happiness.  The ceramic version, not the real thing!  All to do with fertility apparently.  So we’ve read…

We plan to go to Girona for a day and Figueres on another.  We shall be staying here over the New Year and then travel to our house sit in France breaking up the journey into two days. 

 

Christmas Eve in Vilanova i la Geltrú

We were planning a nice Christmas dinner of chicken chasseur and bread and butter pudding so needed to go shopping.  We could have bought what we needed at the small supermarket on site, but decided to take the opportunity to go into town instead and we are so glad we did.

We had seen a little of the town on the bus journey to the train station a couple of days ago and it looked OK, so we were curious to see more.  So armed with our shopping list, we took the bus into town.

Being Christmas Eve, it was really busy, especially the delicatessens,  butchers and the indoor market.  Although people were buying food for Christmas, the whole atmosphere was a happy bustle and plenty of time to stand and chat to friends and neighbours and have a quick fortifying drink at the cafés and bars.  Nothing like the manic food buying as if the world is about to end madness of the Tesco’s etc back home. 

To top it all, the day was bright, sunny and a lovely 19° warm.  Perfect!  Whilst ambling around, we came across this amazing graffiti and decorated plaster wall…

We stopped for a coffee at one of the cafés in the principal town square, the Plaça de la Vila.  The square, plus many of the public buildings were principally financed by Josep Tomàs Ventosa Soler, a textile merchant who made his fortune in Cuba.  A monument featuring a bronze statue of Ventosa stands in the centre of the square.  I also noticed one of the buildings in the square was decorated with the yellow ribbons in support of the jailed pro-independence politicians…

We continued our wandering through the less busy streets of the old town and came across an older man playing the Catalan bagpipes called Sac de Gemecs accompanied, as is traditional, by a girl playing the tabor and pipe.  We hadn’t realised at the time how privileged we were to see this.  The playing of the Sac de Gemecs has been tradition in Catalonia since the 13th century and had all but died out by the 1970’s.  Its revival began a decade later and is, no doubt, an important symbol of Catalan culture and all that that implies….. The sound btw is softer and more low key than the Scottish bagpipes, much easier on the ear!

On another street a much different kind of music; a rock band…

We loved the delicately decorated little narrow streets, and some uniquely placed painted umbrellas and the church….

But alas, we had to say goodbye and return to our campsite.  We are very certain we will return to this lovely town…..

We will be moving on to L’Estartit, on the coast east of Girona on Boxing Day so it will be a few days before I will post another blog.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

 

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