It’s not a country that you miss, it’s the memories you make with people there that you miss.
July and August had come and gone; Summer was basically over. It had been a great break, from hiking some of the GR-11 and then going to Poland for 3 weeks. Some truly amazing experiences. Now it was back to work. Or so I thought at the time. Sadly, due to Covid-19 (and apparently bad financial management as well), my school was looking like it would close down. International House Sabadell has been running for nearly 50 years but it was about to end, which is very, very sad, not just for the teachers and staff, but for all the students too. Sabadell would be losing a great school and long tradition. We went on holidays in August knowing that this may well be a possibility upon our return, but it was still a like a bad dream rather than reality. In the end, 6 International House schools in Spain closed their doors forever, leaving more than 300 staff out of jobs and with little prospects of finding decent work due to Covid and a shrinking market. I tried to find work at other academies, but the pay was abysmal and hours erratic. It was worse than when I got my first teaching job in Spain – it seemed like all this experience and training meant nothing. Sadly, that is the world of private language academies in this country. Some of my friends were also suffering, like many people in Spain, still on the ERTE program to keep workers employed and paid during reduced hours. Two of our good friends in Barcelona suggested a weekend away on the Costa Brava, and we couldn’t say no. Both of them had been hit hard by covid – she was working very little and he was struggling to find work. Both are doing well now, but at the time we all needed to spend time with friends while getting away from the shitty reality of life under Covid. Although I had my troubles during Covid, I want to say that many other people, even people I know, have suffered more. Millions around the world are still suffering from job loss, health issues and the loss of family members. 2020 is the year that everyone wants to forget, bad sadly 2021 doesn’t seem that much brighter so far for many.
The four of us decided to drive up the coast, stopping wherever there was a nice beach or a good view, stay the night and then head up the coast a little more, maybe even into France. That was the plan – simple yet nothing else was needed, everything else along the way would be sorted when we needed to. My kind of holiday! The first place we decided to stop was somewhere around Tossa de Mar, a beautiful yet very touristy town 100kms north of Barcelona and only 100kms south of the French border. I have always thought the name very funny, but nobody ever sees it… de mar means ‘of the sea,’ and Tossa is just a name but sounds exactly like a bad name for someone who enjoys their own company a little too much. The town itself was far too busy to drive into, and as we only wanted a view of the sea and the town, we drove a little further up the coast and found a good, yet very busy, lookout point. We parked up in the little space we could find and joined everyone else who had the same idea, just with selfies sticks and Instagram shots in mind. Them, not us. The view was amazing. There’s nothing like looking out to sea and feeling the salty breeze on your face. Summer. The little cove that we could see was packed, and so was the water – it seemed that everyone was having a yacht party down there! We could also see the town of Tossa, with its twin stone towers and city walls, and the peninsula that juts out into the Mediterranean. As much as I like Tossa, it’s probably prettier from further away where you the summer crowds look like little ants rather than real people talking loudly and bumping into you. Although everyone had masks on, everything was busy and Covid didn’t really seem real. I knew a second wave was coming, but we were doing what everyone else was doing; trying to enjoy ourselves, but safely. The drive along these coastal roads is great – curving roads that wind around the cliffs, sunshine and beautiful weather… makes you want a convertible. The only thing is if you’re driving you have to watch the road in front of you! I enjoy driving though and this was fun. If you want to enjoy the view, pull over and take your time.
There are so many towns and beautiful places to see on this stretch of the country. In this part of Girona, there are big, flat plains that open up to the sea, and this stretch of the coast is called the Bay of Emporda, with pretty towns likes Palau Sator, L'Estartit and L'Escala. Scattered on these plains are medieval villages holding any sort of high ground they can, giving them a good view of the land and the sea. There is a long history of piracy and coastal roads so it’s best to be just off the coast and a little higher to give fair warning to head to for the hills at any sign of trouble. One of these stunning stone villages is Pals, known for its restaurants and crafts, as well as its walls and spectacular view over the bay. It was mid-morning so we decided to stop for a break and a coffee. Even with Covid it was quite busy – I guess when the sun is out everyone wants to get away for the weekend and do something. We decided to sit down at the least busy place we could find, a cute little bar just off the town hall square. We had coffee and ice-cream and enjoyed the sun and the feeling of still being on holiday. Although there isn’t much you can actually do in Pals, apart from eat and drink (ahhh Spain!), it is a lovely place to walk and just enjoy with your eyes. We walked along the oldest streets, not following a particular path but just letting the interesting streets guide us, slowly heading up to the terrace and the view. I love that you can still find towns like this, golden stonework and remnants from the Middle Ages – something you don’t get outside of Europe. At the top of the village, there is Pals Castle, which is a small complex of a single stone tower, walls and the Casa Pi i Figueres. The ‘casa’ looks as old as the rest of the buildings around it, but was only built in 1951. The owner of the Casa Pi i Figueres, a doctorof the same name, was one of the first people to move back into the town centre and started the revival of this place. On the other side of the walls is the Mirador d'en Josep Pla viewpoint. From here you can see the Mediterranean Sea and the Illes Medes, as well as the other towns in the area, including Torroella de Montgrí with its castle on the rocky hill behind it.
Time was ticking and we wanted to see more things before it got dark, and we hadn’t had lunch yet either. One more stop before food. Just down the road, about 10 minutes along small country roads, is the village of Palau-Sator. Even smaller than Pals, and lest touristy as well I think, this little village only has 300 odd residents. What they do have though are restaurants – and this is what people come to do here! Sit in a shady garden, drink Gin and Tonics and feats on a Spanish menu. I’m also sure that there are quite a few Airbnb houses that fill up quick – and why not? This place was gorgeous, away from the bigger towns, but still close to the sea. We didn’t stop at the restaurants, instead chose to walk around the old ‘nucli’ of Palau-Sator. If you look at this village from the air (or Google Maps), it kind of looks like a small snail’s shell, with one road around the outside, a curvy little road heading into the centre where a tower sits. Looking at the buildings on the outside, it looks as if they may have been part of the wall, and with only one way in, the centre building must have been the keep or lord’s house. Now, there weren’t many people on the streets, just cats and cactus everywhere. It was still very pretty. The castell, or what is left of it, offers a great view of the area, just like Pals it gives you a real panoramic and you can imagine people here on the lookout for pirates. After a quick climb on renovated stairs up to the bell tower, you can also see the remains of the walls, but I loved looking at all the little terraces people have and the orange roof tiles, which are very Spanish. It was lunch time, so we got back in the cars and headed for the coast, planning a picnic at a beach and then a swim to cool down. We headed up the coast towards L’Escala, heading for a little peninsula at the edge of town. We parked the car and walked to Cala Illa Mateua, a little pebble beach with a great view over the sea. We chilled out, had lunch and then jumped in for a swim. Before heading back to the car, I chilled in the sun, drying off, sipping a 0% beer at watched people jumping off the big rock into the waves. It was great here, relaxing even though it was very busy with people, jet skis and pleasure craft cruising by – we’d found a quiet spot and sat there until the sun went down. I love the sound of waves crashing over stones… not so much the feeling of them on my feet while trying to get in or out of the water though!
We pulled into Llanca, another port town along this stretch of the coast, and managed to find a parking spot not too far from you accommodation. It was already a little late, about 9pm, but what made things worse was the slow and inefficient guy trying to check us in. He could only concentrate on half a thing at a time, didn’t really understand in Spanish or English, and was desecrated by the littlest things – we ended up getting checked in after someone that arrived later, I think because they made a lot of noise and flash some 50 euros notes around while we were paying by card. We finally made it upstairs to your room, which we quickly decided had been a normal apartment converted into a hotel room. It still had a big sideboard, just like your grandmother has, full of plates and silverware. The bathroom, which was another room out in the hallways, was a travesty from the 70s, with green paint and horrible tiles. It was also dirty and shared with the whole floor. Ah, summer on the Costa Brava! We got changed and left to have dinner as quick as possible, just making it to a restaurant before they stopped serving food – the police have been cracking down on businesses already due to the pandemic. We were lucky! We had a great meal, although late, and capped off a great day. The next day wasn’t going to be as long, with a short drive up the coast planned. After breakfast in the main square of Llanca, we took the coastal road up and through the last towns of Catalonia, Colera and Port Bou, climbing and winding our way up before dropping back down and into France. We stopped at the lighthouse at Cap de Cervera de la Merenda, France’s most southerly point. What a view from here, if you don’t mind a slight gale force wind! We got blown but to our cars but found a nice spot to stop for a swim at a gorgeous little bay called Cap Canadell. Sparkling blue water enclosed by steep jagged cliffs, it was the perfect little hideaway. After watching Four Weddings and a Funeral for the first time, I always marvelled at their weekend trip to France, driving there… but it really is possible! Where I’d been living in Spain, I was never more than 1.5 hours from France. This was something that I would miss. We had a great weekend up the coast, with great friends that will be missed dearly. It’s not a country that you miss, it’s the memories you make with people there that you miss.
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MyUncleTravellingMatt. September 2020.