20 May: Aix-en-Provence | Avignon | Port Bou | Barcelona
A long day of travel (taxi-bus-train-bus-train-train-taxi) that gets us into another country, a new language, and a whole different daily rhythm, with the loss of only one pair of little person shoes.
The final taxi takes us through the city and up, up the hills, so that we start to wonder where we are going, but then we find our little apartment and it’s just fine — small and clean and comfortable, with an extraordinarily complicated shower and a perfect view over the city to the sea.
We’re close to the top entrance of Park Güell, with a good selection of neighbourhood shops: a grocer, a butcher, a baker, fruit and veg, a café/bar, and a chemist. It’s not very touristy, more families and young people, and older ones too, and lots of dogs. We pull together dinner and settle to bed. Tomorrow, Barcelona!
21 May: Barcelona
As soon as I wake up, I’m excited, eager to get out in this wonderful Spanish city. We have breakfast, then walk down to Park Güell — the paths wind down through the gardens, taking in views of the city and glimpses of buildings, sculpture, columns, platforms, kiosks, and people.
The Cat gets a crash course in the intersections of class capitalism and State power; there are men everywhere with trinkets laid out for sale on squares of white cloth — they want to sell, and the Cat, clutching his little bag of money, is very keen to buy. But every time he gets close, a police officer appears on the horizon and the men disappear, melting into the crowd, their goods tucked into a coat or shoved into a rubbish bin. It takes a few circuits of the park and some hurried negotiation before the Cat manages to get small presents for each of his friends, for his aunt and uncle, and for himself. But he’s fascinated by the process, and bewildered too.
We have lunch at the bottom of the hill, then wander home for siesta and a grocery shop. I try out my very rudimentary Spanish with a great deal of enthusiasm and very little skill — at one point I find myself mooing to indicate I’d like steak… all class, that’s me.
After a siesta — no actual sleep, but a definite pause in the day — we catch the bus into town and walk down to the Sagrada Familia. It’s big, it’s unfinished, it’s like no building I’ve ever seen before. The children are more interested in the playground across the road, but I’m on a Gaudi trip, so I brightly suggest that we wander around L’Eixample for a while because I’m sure there’s a famous apartment somewhere here. Which — it eventually turns out — there is, and it’s fabulous, but I’ve pushed too far and my child is mutinous. We forego the planned tapas and escape home on a bus. Next time, next time, I’ll go into these buildings, and maybe my boy will come too.
At the end of the day, the light brightens over the city, so that the shadows deepen and a sort of glow takes hold of the buildings. I stand on the balcony and take photo after photo, because I’ve fallen for this city, fallen big time.
22 May: Barcelona
We are off to be tourists today; we pack a bag of snacks and head into town. First stop = Plaça de Catalunya for morning tea and running with the pigeons. Then we walk down Las Ramblas, which is more cheerful and less hassly than I was expecting from the guidebooks. We spot the market and stop for a happy detour — piles of gorgeous fruit and veg, fish, meats, deli things, honey, etc, etc. We buy olives, anchovies, and artichokes, fresh juices for the boys, and hand-sliced ham. For those who skimmed over that last bit, a woman stood in front of a hanging, swinging leg of ham, steadied it with one hand, and carved paper-thin slices off it with what I assume was a very sharp knife. We take a moment to register what she’s doing, then just look at each other in awe. That’s some knife skills right there.
We need lunch now, so we find our way into a little square in the Barri Gòtic and settle into a restaurant. Then an afternoon of following our noses, gradually meandering to the sea. We do a bit of shopping (mostly window) and find excellent sorbet. I have pear with cinnamon and ginger, and it’s addictively good. I’m going to make this when we get home.
The Cat has walked like a trooper today, so we gather ourselves together and head back to the apartment, where we have a little pause before trying out the local swimming pool. We do pretty much everything wrong, including not having caps, but the staff help sort us out (we’re definitely the muddle-headed, incompetent foreigners in this one) and the water feels good after a long day. Home for a late dinner, which is basically our market shopping laid out on the table. Should I say it again? I really like this city.
23 May: Barcelona
Our last day, which seems to have come around all too soon. Ian takes the boys to the zoo, and I take Dad with me on an intense shopping trip through the old city, in which I sort all remaining presents, get only a bit lost, and forget to stop for food and drink. So by the time we meet the boys back at the zoo, we’re very ready for lunch, which leads to a lot of hapless decision making and vague wandering. But we do end up eating, which perks everyone right up.
Later that evening, with the sun setting and the moon rising into the night, we take the boys down to Park Güell for a final walk. We photograph each other, looking out over the city. It’s been such a very good trip.
24 May: Barcelona | Munich
We have an eye-wateringly early start for our flight to Munich, then train rides through the rain to Christl’s house. Christl meets us at the station, and it’s wonderful to see her again, and to settle into her warm, beautiful house. My grandparents met Christl 40-something years ago on the ferry to Stewart Island, when she was in her twenties and back-packing around New Zealand with a Toss Woollaston under her arm and all the courage and openness of youth. She stayed with them for a while, starting a friendship that has taken in four generations of my family. She and Mum had a special bond, and Mum’s absence feels strong here, like the link that holds us all together.
We have a Bavarian lunch: weisswürst and pretzels, with a lush green salad to follow. Then naps and curling up by the tiled wood stove, before a walk by the river and the lake. The bird spotter clocks a mandarin duck, swans on the nest, coots, and ducks. We throw stones into the water, and Christl and I discover that we both keep a small stone or two in our coat pockets.
That night we sleep under feather duvets, burrowing into the warmth.
25 May: Munich | Hong Kong | Aotearoa
It’s my birthday! We wake to a sick Rabbit — he vomits four times before breakfast — but we also manage cuddles and presents, and when we make it to the breakfast table, Christl has laid my place with candles and flowers. We have coffee and rolls with good things, keep an eye on the Rabbit, wash a few hundred towels, and head out for some fresh air. It’s a funny day — we have a cold, damp trip to the zoo, the Rabbit sleeps a lot and slowly brightens, I speak German as well as I can, we eat lots of good German food, we talk and talk and talk, and all the time we’re getting ready to go home.
We fly out at night — a hideous trip — and many hours later, we land in Dunedin. My sister takes us home, gives us hot soup and rolls, sends us to bed. The first night, we are wakened by the Cat (x 3, then he’s up at 3.49am), the Rabbit (x 4), the actual cat (x 2), and Ian’s work (3 phone calls at 7am because it’s snowing and they’d really like him to get out in it and report. Indeed, there’s a good five inches of snow when we wake up, and I can’t really get my head around it.
Europe already feels like the other side of the world, and I want to go back.