Tuesday, 22 July 2008


I’m here in Montpellier, France after an amazing weekend in Barcelona. So far the trip has been really fun, Barcelona is an amazing city and I feel like we saw many different sides to it over the three days. Driving from Barcelona to Montpellier yesterday was also really amazing; watching the landscapes, language and culture change as we drove over the Pyranees reminded me of why I love driving on trips. In Catalonia the land was much drier, and when we stopped in Gerona for dinner it still looked very Spanish. Once we crossed the Alps and arrived in Perpignan things instantly took on a different look. Everything seemed much greener, for instance.

Language has actually been an interesting issue on this trip. I’m with three friends from London: one from Bermuda, one from Australia and one from Paraguay (further evidence of how truly international London is as a city). Carlos, who is from Paraguay, was a great resource to have on this trip because he speaks Spanish. Granted, Barcelona is in Catalonia where they speak, read and write in Catalan, but everyone also speaks Spanish. So everywhere we went we had Carlos speak to people for us. Once we crossed the Pyranees, it was Adam the Bermudan’s turn to be translator. Adam spent a year in high school in Brittany, France and a semester in college in Paris, so he speaks French quite well.

Having them on the trip has been handy, but it’s also taken away the motivation to try and speak some of the language myself, particularly now that we’re in France and I do speak some French. Even more than that, though, it’s made me feel a bit frustrated that I still only speak English. I do really wish I could converse in French at an advanced level. Not only would it be useful at times like this, but it would also be incredibly advantageous for my career. All things to consider has I mull over what to do next now that I have Italian citizenship.

I would say that main thing that struck me about Barcelona is what an unbelievable success story the last 20 years has been for that city. Ever since Aragon-Catalonia’s union with Castile, Barcelona has had an uncomfortable status within a united Spain that saw fits and starts of decline and rebirth. But the years under the dictator Francisco Franco were particularly rough for the city. Franco seemed to have a particular dislike for Catalonia, banning the use of the Catalan language in TV, print and road signs and turning Barcelona into an ignored city. But after Franco’s death the city was able to reinvent itself as the shining new capital of a semi-autonomous Catalonia. The 1992 summer Olympics were instrumental in this, as the city reorganized and opened itself to the sea. On Saturday night we went for a paella dinner - in the old Olympic village with my Swiss friend Thomas - who now lives in London but lives in Barcelona for a year and came to join us for the Barcelona leg of our trip. It was amazing to see what the city had done with the Olympic spaces once the games were over, unlike in most cities where the sites go unused. Thomas told me that Barcelona is the only city to ever turn a profit from the Olympics - but I’m going to have to check that one out!

The weather here has been absolutely beautiful, warm and sunny every day. We went to the beach outside Barcelona on Saturday and I couldn’t believe how warm the Mediterranean water was. It’s been years since I’ve swum in an ocean that warm, probably since the last time I was in LA.

One thing that was very apparent while we were there though is the sheer volume of British tourists that go to Barcelona over the summer. They were literally everywhere! My brother is in Ibiza at the moment and he said it’s the same thing there, although I’m sure to a much greater extent. We even managed to run into people we know from London at the bars over the weekend. It’s not a horrible thing, but it is a little annoying. After all, you go on vacation to get away from your normal surroundings, so you don’t want half of the city you’re from to seem to be following you there.

Today we’re off to Avignon and Arles, and then we’re spending two nights in Aix-En-Provence. I’m really excited to see two things: the Papal Palace in Avignon and the Roman coliseum in Arles. Hopefully we’ll have time to see them both. It’s ten am and everyone else is still sleeping. I’m going to go wake them up. Vacations are not for sleeping!


Alexandra West said...

Hi. Great post. How long did it take you to drive from Barcelona to Montpellier? Was it a beautiful leisurely drive, or was it an all-day affair? We are planning on doing the same drive on our trip to BCN in September... but only have 2 days road time. Thanks!

Dave Keating said...

Hi there. It took about 3 1/2 hours, which was an hour quicker than it would have taken by train. We left around 4 and spent a few hours in Girona so we arrived in Montpellier very late. It was a nice drive though, very scenic and along the coast.