Ok, so the water temperatures are not at their best and it might not be the sunniest time of year either. Still, Spain tempted us more than a Norwegian Christmas this year.
Where is everybody?` we ask while driving from the airport to our hotel in Alicante. Big waves are pounding on the shore and the wind buffets the car. Have they all evacuated? Or is it simply the absence of tourist crowds, as the city feels almost empty in December?
The forecast is still showing wind and rain. It is worse further south apparently, according to the news. In Murcia there is flooding in several places and some people have died. We keep our winter coats on to keep the wind out. The rain is fortunately polite enough to stay away while we trudge along the streets to find a place that serves food. We find a couple of places. Where the old men are watching football and the guy behind the counter slices up cheese and ham for us. Shoulders are down. We toast.
Next day, we put the car in gear and head inland. Away from the storm, away from the empty apartment complexes and shopping streets. Out in the Mediterranean we hear rumbling in the sky, but when we pass the big `Osbourne bull` silhouette, the sky starts to brighten.
The roads are getting smaller. The air is cooler. As we pass small towns, the countryside becomes more hilly. Negotiating sharp bends, we work our way down the gorge toward Alcalá de Júcar. A small town clinging to a hill dominated by the remains of an old castle. We climb up the narrow streets. A true labyrinth, where a dog takes on the job of guiding us toward the castle, only interrupted by cats lurking in the corners, which must be barked at.
Still heading north, it is on to Cuenca, which also has an old town clinging to a mountain. Here too there is a narrow labyrinth taking you to little secrets and surprises. A bridge allows you to walk across the gorge. We are a little worried if it will support the weight of the padlocks that some have started to hang up here. Very quickly, they can become many.
In Cariñena we drink some lovely wine and fill our bellies on the menu del dia, which is served by two nice ladies at the restaurant La Rebotica. While we’re eating, we summarize the day that took us through lovely countryside, past an exciting castle in Aragón and through a huge gorge where “lumps” of spider(?) web dotted the pine trees. The landscape constantly changed as we headed further north. From forest to barren plains, interspersed with rust red soil.
Why not add another country to our journey, while we’re at it? Andorra is a very small country and many Spaniards go there on day trips to buy cheap alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical goods. Here we find a restaurant and order a menu del dia. We believe we order pasta, but realize soon it is actually soup (a lovely soup, though!). We don´t quite have the hang of Catalonian yet. The mountains are high above us and we can see some snow behind the nearest peaks. Still, it’s not as cold here as we thought. We decide to do as the Spanish people do, and purchase some tax free goods.
Oh, and the road to Andorra is just gorgeous. Just a pity there are not many stops to take photos as you drive up the gorge heading for Sant Julià de Lòria.
Next day we climb to the top of Montserrat, known for its monastery, believed to have been raised before 888. Today it is a popular tourist magnet, with cafes, souvenir shops and a large parking lot. Although the buildings (and the Black Madonna) are impressive, we are really fascinated by the mountain, which stands out against the landscape with its jagged peaks (hence the name, which means sawtooth mountain). It reminds us of something from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.
The mountain could have been a source of inspiration for one of the country’s great artists. Before we park the car for good (for our part), we take a detour to Figueres, Salvador Dalí’s hometown. The old theater in town is now a museum which houses the largest collection of Dali’s works. The famous Mae West installation is located here.
Like Dalí’s famous clocks, time runs out. Barcelona is popping up on the horizon, as we drive down the motorway. Our roadtrip is over and we’ve had a taste of the Spanish countryside. The fact that we were far out of season was just great, really. On certain days, it feels like we’ve had huge parts of Spain to ourselves. Barcelona, however, we will have to share with many others, no matter what time of year it may be.