After two weeks of gorgeous weather here in the Pays Basque, that Sunday morning dawned cool, cloudy and drizzly. Of course! I had told them not to bring rain gear since the forecast was for continued beautiful weather. Luckily, they were wise enough to ignore my advice. We had reserved a room for them in a hotel near our apartment with spectacular ocean views and views of the Trois Couronnes and La Rhune. I think they caught a brief glimpse of the Pyrenees just before they left.
After we showed them around our little village, they took a quick jet-lagged induced nap before we headed for dinner at the always wonderful Txamarra near the port and Les Alcyons here in Guethary.
We had originally planned to take them to the Guggenheim in Bilbao on Tuesday, but with heavy rain forecast, we decided to visit Bilbao on Monday in spite of the fact that the museum was closed. Actually, it wasn't so much Bilbao they wanted to see, it was San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. They're both Game of Thrones fanatics and wanted to see the location that was a big part of this past season.
As the rain broke up on Tuesday, we did a hike along the Sentier Littoral into Saint Jean de Luz and back. Wednesday morning, it was raining again but it started to clear a bit by the afternoon, so we decided to show them a bit of Biarritz on their last day in the the Pays Basque. We walked along the Grande Plage, then made our way to Rocher de la Vierge.
With the sun finally out, we caught the sunset (but no green flash) just before dinner at Tantina de la Playa in Bidart. Victor commented that it was one of the best meals he'd ever had.
We headed south and followed the Bidasoa river as we entered Spain. Karen and I have gone stand up paddling in its spectacular river canyon just below the French village of Biriatou. We'd occasionally caught sight of a highway far above us, but this was the first time we'd driven along the river that serves as the border between France and Spain near the Basque coast.
As we reached the south side of the Pyrenees, the terrain and weather changed. Low clouds and drizzle gave way to sunshine, and the lush green of the Basque coast became dry high plains, much like you'd see in eastern Colorado or Wyoming.
We skirted Pamplona, and continued through the uniformly flat and dry plains on our way to Zaragoza, Victor's birthplace. Karen, her children, and their father spent four years there as part of an Air Force assignment nearly forty years ago. Karen wanted to visit their former home and see how the city had changed. Of course, it's much bigger now. The population was 150,000 when they lived there and is now nearly 700,000.
Entering the grand plaza in front of the spectacular cathedral downtown, we discovered a pro-Spain Unity demonstration just breaking up. In spite of major police, army, Guardia Civil, and ambulance presence, it was apparently a peaceful demonstration.
We strolled the plaza and then had an excellent lunch at Asador La Forja, not far from the Cathedral.
After lunch we managed to find their former home, but not after a bit of confusion because they'd changed the house numbers on the street. The home is located in a well-developed area of walled and gated homes which now includes elegant hotels and apartments nearby. Apparently the surrounding areas were quite rural years before.
We got back on the road heading east and three hours later faced tremendous traffic jams as we entered downtown Barcelona.
After checking into our hotel, not far from the conference center, we made our way down the Carrer de Blai, a pedestrian mall with dozens of excellent restaurants. We picked Boca Oreja (word of mouth) and had a sumptuous meal that began with my first patatas bravas (roasted potatoes with a mayonnaise and pepper sauce) and included the best octopus dish I've ever eaten.
Over the next few days, we visited many of the tourist sites in Barcelona - the Palau National art museum with its commanding views of the city, the botanical gardens, the Gothic quarter, the Picasso Museum - if ever you had a doubt about Picasso being a genius, just check out some of the work he did as a young teenager - and countless other places that we could reach on foot. We also encountered some demonstrations - crowded but peaceful. Of course that would change soon after our departure from Barcelona.
Before leaving Barcelona on Sunday, we had to see some of the Gaudi architecture. Our first stop was the Sagrada Familia. They began construction on this somewhat bizarre basilica in the 1880s and don't expect to complete it until 2026, the hundredth anniversary of Gaudi's death.
From there, we made our way to Park Guell, a fantastic park designed by Gaudi with unusual buildings, exotic structures, and great views of the city. Unfortunately, to get into most of the buildings and the most exotic parts of the park, you need to reserve (and pay) several days in advance, so we just toured this magical place.
Exiting the tunnel, we found ourselves at 5300 feet of altitude in lush green France. The trip back to Guethary was uneventful but much more scenic than northern Spain.
Overall, we enjoyed our trip to Barcelona. The politics are interesting if unstable. My personal belief, as a relatively uninformed foreigner, is that the independence movement was an attempt to negotiate to regain the autonomy that Catalonia experienced several years ago, to become an autonomous region within Spain, much like the Basque region is now.
From what I can see, Catalonia could never have stood on its own economically. They could never have become part of the EU and since most of their revenues come from Spain, losing that income with a separation could be fatal to the region. Unfortunately, it was a tough game of cat and mouse and as I write this, it's not looking good for Catalonia. Carles Puigdemont is under arrest in Belgium and Spain has charged him and his associates with treason. There is a lot of support for Catalonia's independence or perhaps autonomy here in the Pays Basque with demonstrations today. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail before something disastrous happens.