Every journey must have an end.
On 12th April 2017 I packed my bags and set out to see my girlfriend Miriam and family, parents Kiko and Isabel and brother David, in her homeland of Catalonia, Spain. Arriving in her picturesque hometown of Manlleu, the next weeks saw us travel together to Barcelona, one of the most strikingly beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, and into the lofty highs of the Pre-Pyrenees.
Having taken some time to explore Manlleu and its surroundings, our final days together were filled with incredible journeys and unforgettable moments.
With only a few days to go until my return to Catalonia, it’s time to look back over the end of my first visit.
Following on from the first two instalments, where I travelled to Barcelona (read part one here) before taking time to explore true Catalonia (read part two here), I’m retracing my journey to the wide beaches of Castalldefels and the awe inspiring medieval-style architecture of Rupit, before saying a short “goodbye”…
(I’m sorry for the short break in content. If you’ve been wondering why I took a break from my blog, and what’s next, read my latest ANNOUNCEMENT here)
DAY 11 - CASTELLDEFELS (21/4)
If there is any county in Europe which an synonymous with sunshine, golden sand and days spent beside the sea, then it’s Spain. Eager to experience the tourist life at least once, Miriam and I returned to Barcelona before taking a slow train along the coast to the beachfront town of Castelldefels.
The sun was blisteringly hot, even by Catalonian standards, but when we finally wound our way through the streets to the beach we found it largely empty: a strong wind was whipping up the sand, and many of the tourists had moved further along the beach to find shelter under the shadow of the hills.
Taking shelter ourselves next to a beachfront restaurant, where we eventually sat down to lunch, the wind battered us all day. Whilst in England, this might have caused us to seek a warmer spot, the breeze provided a welcome respite from the humidity (at the cost of getting sand in every single one of the things we brought with us).
But as tourist scrambled for cover, and us doing little more than dip our toes in the alarmingly foaming sea water, the skies of the beach were alive with the soaring shapes of kites and sails, each one dancing in and out of view as though part of an elaborate display. Dozens of kite-surfers had taken to the water, riding the waves far out into the surf before returning to hang their kites to dry freely in the wind all over the sand.
We finished our day trip with a lunch of tapas at the beachfront bar, with a beer in the sunshine to wash it down: because, sometimes, it’s nice to live the tourist lifestyle for a few short moments. With good food and good company, I found that all of my worries were carried away with the kites on the wind.
DAY 12 - RETURN TO THE PRE-PYRENEES AND RUPIT (22/4)
From golden sands and the shores of the Mediterranean Sea to the mountainous heights of the Pre-Pyrenees, our next journey took us deep into Northern Catalonia, towards the border with France and Andorra.
Our shorts and t-shirts replaced with coats and boots, our destination was a restaurant nestled deep in the Pre-Pyrenees. My last trip into the mountains had seen the last remains of winter clinging to the mountains’ heights, but after the intense heat of the previous week all evidence of snow in the mountains had disappeared. What was in winter a snowy paradise of peaks was now a line of green tree-tops stretching over the hills and mountains, and diving far into the valleys below.
After lunch at a restaurant which was far too rich for my blood (you can take a boy out of Lincolnshire, etc) but with food that was genuinely spectacular, we next drifted out into the mountains. Our destination was the isolated town of Rupit. Nestled deep in the mountains, and accessible only by a long, winding and (at times) perilous road. Arriving in a small car park, I slung my camera over my shoulder, not knowing that I would ultimately take nearly as many pictures in those few short hours as I did in my entire weekend in Barcelona.
Rupit is a town which seems to be trapped hundreds of years in the past. From the most modern part of town, the tourist centre (which is little more than a shop set within a stunning stone building), the roads gradually melt away into cobbled streets which climb ever upwards.
Built into the side of the mountains, climbing through the streets of Rupit was a challenge, to say the least. But, despite the ancient-looking architecture, there were signs of modern civilisation. Bars built out of stone with wooden supports had modern music on the radio. Hotels with great wooden doors led to televisions playing the latest Barcelona football game. These two cultures, the old and the new, seemed to be constantly clashing without impeding on each other. Whilst being firmly designed to resemble the past, this was a town which nevertheless knew that it was in the 21st century. It was a difficult balance, but one which seemed to be achieved with ease.
All in all, that small town nestled deep in the mountains was almost as strikingly beautiful as some of my favourite places on earth, including Lake Taupo (New Zealand) and the Yorkshire Dales (United Kingdom). It was a place unlike any other, and one which I would count as a privilege to visit again in the future.
DAY 13 & 14 - FINAL DAYS AND FINAL THOUGHTS
The truly difficult thing about any long distance relationship is the knowledge that, eventually, you will both have to go back to your lives without each other. We spent months waiting for two short weeks together, but those two weeks truly felt like a month, or more. When you’re waiting for someone for that long, you want to make every moment count.
What I’ve offered over these last three instalments in a small glimpse to the things I did and saw in my time in Catalonia, but in truth there is so much more: enough to fill at least a good number of blog posts. There might be more news on that in the future, and there are plans in development which will see me return to some of these moments, but for now that’s in the realm of speculation. For now, we have the memories.
I have referred to Catalonia as such, rather than Spain, throughout this series with good reason: Catalonia, although strictly part of Spain, feels like a different country. The customs, the people, and even the language are different. Catalan isn’t just another version of Spanish, in the same way that Catalonia isn’t just another part of Spain. This is a nation, with its own history and people, and one which I found to be beautiful, kind and completely in-excess of my expectations.
There is little that I can share about the final two days of my original holiday in Catalonia, as those times were spent with Miriam and her family. There were no more grand journeys into the mountains or travels around great cities. These were relaxed times, and ones which I think are best kept to memory.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my first Travel Diaries series, and if I’ve done anything to portray the beauty of Catalonia then I’ve done my job. There will be more series like this in the future, as my travels take to further out into the world. But, for now, I hope that this will suffice.
Until next time, I remain,
~ Ross M. F. Firth
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