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Friday, May 26, 2017

The Cradle of Catalunya: The Trip of a Lifetime, Part 5

A palace near the gas station in Sant Ramon, because it's Catalunya
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
On the morning of May 18, 2016, my husband and I were overjoyed to eat the hotel breakfast because it included "Macedonia" yogurt. Macedonia is a special mixed fruit flavor I had to work hard to convince Stanley to try in 2015. From the moment it hit his tongue, it was the only flavor of yogurt he ever wanted to eat, and you can’t get it in the United States. 

It was a cloudy day, but we were too cheerful to let it bother us. The previous day was only the second time I’d been in Aragón, and that day was going to be the second time I’d been in Catalunya. The regions of Spain are a source of constant cultural and linguistic amazement. 

The mountain tunnels are decorated with flowers.
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
It was a long drive to Ripoll, but with all the charms of castles on crags, changing landscapes, an arch that showed the Greenwich Line (opposite the International Date Line), and tons of tunnels through the mountains. We stopped at a gas station in a little place called Sant Ramon, which had a big palace. We bought a large bottle of water for only one Euro and the guy was helpful, conversing in Spanish, but the bathroom keys’ labels read dones and homes, the Catalan words for “women” and “men.” The linguist in me came out to celebrate, not to retreat for the rest of the journey.

The first droplets of water hit us on our entry into Ripoll, a place with lots of garden centers and a few shops. We went to Restaurant Can Villaura for lunch at a quarter to four, when the crowd was thinning out. I got a menu in Spanish to cope with ordering, but was reading all the Catalan on the walls. We had macarrones with gratinado and roasted chicken and fries. Roasted chicken with delicately seasoned sauce and potatoes fried in olive oil had become Stanley’s favorite dish in 2015 and if it was on offer, we couldn’t let it pass by. As soon as we stepped out of the restaurant, it started pouring insanely cold rain.

We ran under a pedestrian bridge, and the prospect of waiting for the cloudburst to pass was unattractive because neither of us had our jackets. Stanley ducked out and ran to the car to retrieve my jacket for me. It got soaked and he was frozen, but the gallantry was not lost on me. I used it as an umbrella to get to the car, where we sat in the blast from the heater for some minutes while it pelted rain.

The monastery at Ripoll after the rain
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
When the rain became normal enough, we drove to the monastery, arriving around 5 p.m. We were all by ourselves in the explanatory chapel in the tourism office and I was overwhelmed with the importance of this place to Catalan history. It all happened here! 

Small section of the main portal at Ripoll
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
The main portal at Ripoll is touted as the finest example of Catalan Romanesque sculpture. Nothing I’d read about it prepared me for how astounding it was. The photos don’t do it justice, of course. Stanley helped me record every inch of the wonder and kept me on schedule so we could see it all before they closed. The interior of the monastery had artistic contributions from the early Middle Ages to the present, and I stood, paced, and gasped, puzzling it all out in Catalan, Spanish, and English. I’m not sure how to convey the joy when I discovered that the cloister had a different capital on every marble column.

The cloister at Ripoll
Photo by Stanley Coombs 
It was a two-hour drive to Cadaqués. The map made it look close from Ripoll, but it wasn’t detailed enough to show all the mountainous switchbacks and curves. I thought we’d come out of the mountains to get to the coast, but that coast is rugged and hilly. Cadaqués is all hills, some of them so steep Stanley held onto me so I wouldn’t slide down. 

Cadaqués at night
Photo by Stanley Coombs 
We didn’t arrive until nightfall, around 9 p.m. The hotel was basic, but it was almost more comfortable that way. A five-star luxury experience could’ve been too much in such an ecstatically charming location. We walked out in the dark and the drizzle to look for dinner. We made it to the shore, with the waves crashing, restaurants, and a Dalí statue, then turned around and bought a pizza (they call them cocas) and a crispy almond honey flatbread about as big as a 33 rpm record at a bakery and ate them with peanut butter crackers back in the room. The prevailing feeling was that we should stay longer, but alas, I’d scheduled only one night there.

Cadaqués in the morning
Photo by Jessica Knauss 

Next time: the romantic frenzy of Salvador Dalí and Gala.

Catch up with the rest of the posts in this series here